Journal of cellular physiology

Functions and action mechanisms of flavonoids genistein and icariin in regulating bone remodeling.

PMID 22777826


Increasingly natural products particularly flavonoids are being explored for their therapeutic potentials in reducing bone loss and maintaining bone health. This study has reviewed previous studies on the two better known flavonoids, genistein and icariin, their structures, functions, action mechanisms, relative potency, and potential application in regulating bone remodeling and preventing bone loss. Genistein, an isoflavone abundant in soy, has dual functions on bone cells, able to inhibit bone resorption activity of osteoclasts and stimulate osteogenic differentiation and maturation of bone marrow stromal progenitor cells (BMSCs) and osteoblasts. Genistein is an estrogen receptor (ER)-selective binding phytoestrogen, with a greater affinity to ERβ. Genistein inhibits tyrosine kinases and inhibits DNA topoisomerases I and II, and may act as an antioxidant. Genistein enhances osteoblastic differentiation and maturation by activation of ER, p38MAPK-Runx2, and NO/cGMP pathways, and it inhibits osteoclast formation and bone resorption through inducing osteoclastogenic inhibitor osteoprotegerin (OPG) and blocking NF-κB signaling. Icariin, a prenylated flavonol glycoside isolated from Epimedium herb, stimulates osteogenic differentiation of BMSCs and inhibits bone resorption activity of osteoclasts. Icariin, whose metabolites include icariside I, icariside II, icaritin, and desmethylicaritin, has no estrogenic activity. However, icariin is more potent than genistein in promoting osteogenic differentiation and maturation of osteoblasts. The existence of a prenyl group on C-8 of icariin molecular structure has been suggested to be the reason why icariin is more potent than genistein in osteogenic activity. Thus, the prenylflavonoids may represent a class of flavonoids with a higher osteogenic activity.

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Icariin, ≥94% (HPLC)