BackgroundPhytochemical flavonoids are widely distributed in the environment and are derived from many anthropogenic activities. The isoflavone genistein is a naturally occurring compound found in soya products that are habitual constituents of the aquafeeds. This isoflavone possesses oestrogenic biological activity and also apoptotic properties. The present study has been performed to determine the effects of the genistein in the early life stages of the flatfish Senegalese sole during the first month of larval life, and it is focused especially at the metamorphosis, analysing the expression transcript levels and the immunohistochemical protein patterns implicated in the cell proliferation and apoptosis pathways (proliferation cellular/PCNA, anti-apoptosis Survivin/BIRC-5, death receptors/Fas, and Caspases).ResultsThe isoflavone genistein induced some temporal disrupting effects in several pro-apoptotic signalling pathways (Fas, CASP-6) at both genistein doses (3 mg/L and 10 mg/L), with increased Fas transcripts and also decreasing CASP-6 mRNA expression levels during metamorphic and post-metamorphic stages of the Senegalese sole. On the other hand, the anti-apoptotic BIRC-5 expression levels were weakly down-regulated with both the highest and lowest doses, but all of these imbalances were stabilised to the baseline levels. In early life stages of the controls, the constitutive basal transcript levels were temporarily and differentially expressed, reaching the highest levels at the pre-metamorphosis phase, as especially in endotrophic larvae (i.e. BIRC-5 mRNA), as well as in the metamorphic (i.e. CASP-6 mRNA) and post-metamorphic stages (i.e. Fas mRNA). In general, through development, continuous and progressive increases in the protein patterns of cell proliferation-PCNA (e.g. mitotic nuclei), anti-apoptotic Survivin (e.g. haematopoietic system, brain, digestive system, gills) and CASP-2 and -6 (e.g. brain, gills, kidney, digestive system, vascular systems, among others) have been immunohistochemically detected. Besides, both the controls and genistein exposed larvae displayed parallel immunostaining protein patterns in the different organ-systems and tissues.ConclusionsThe transcriptional imbalances observed in the studied genes (BIRC-5, CASP-6, Fas) were only temporarily induced, and apparently no changes in the immunohistochemical protein patterns were detected. Thus, the isoflavone genistein caused not harmful effects in the development and metamorphosis of the Senegalese sole exposed to chronic environmentally relevant concentrations (3 and 10 mg/L).