Genistein, a soy isoflavone, has a wide range of biological actions that suggest it may be of use in cancer prevention. We have recently reported that it arrests hepatoma cells at G2/M phase and inhibits Cdc2 kinase activity. In the present study, we examined the signaling pathway by which genistein modulates Cdc2 kinase activity in HepG2 cells and leads to G2/M arrest, and found that it caused an increase in both Cdc2 phosphorylation and expression of the Cdc2-active kinase, Wee1. Genistein also enhanced the expression of the cell cycle inhibitor, p21waf1/cip1, which interacts with Cdc2. Furthermore, phosphorylation/inactivation of Cdc25C phosphatase, which dephosphorylates/activates Cdc2, was increased. Genistein enhanced the activity of the checkpoint kinase, Chk2, which phosphorylates/inactivates Cdc25C, induced accumulation of p53, and activated the ataxia-telangiectasia-mutated (ATM) gene. Caffeine, an ATM kinase inhibitor, inhibited these effects of genistein on Chk2, p53, and p21waf1/cip1. These findings suggest that the effect of genistein on G2/M arrest in HepG2 cells is partly due to ATM-dependent Chk2 activation, an increase in Cdc2 phosphorylation/inactivation as a result of induction of Wee1 expression, and a decrease in Cdc2 activity as a result of induction of p21waf1/cip1 expression.
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