The role of estrogens and estrogen-like molecules, including isoflavones, in regulating bone cell activities is essential in understanding the etiology and treatment of post-menopausal osteoporosis. Although estrogen replacement (HRT) has been the main therapy used to prevent and treat osteoporosis, there are concerns about its safety. Isoflavones have attracted attention to their potential roles in osteoporosis prevention and treatment. We have compared the effects of the isoflavone daidzein (1 nM), which has no effect on tyrosine kinases, and 17β-estradiol (1 nM) on the development and function of cultured osteoblasts isolated from long bones of young female piglets. Daidzein increased ALP activity, osteocalcin secretion, and mineralization, while E2 increased only ALP activity. The content of ERβ and osteoprotegerin secretion by control cells gradually increased during osteoblast differentiation, whereas the ERα and RANK-L content decreased. Daidzein enhanced only the nuclear ERβ whereas estradiol increased both ERα and ERβ. Daidzein and estradiol increased osteoprotegerin and RANK-L secretion. Daidzein had a more pronounced effect than did estradiol. Daidzein and estradiol increased the membrane content of RANK-L and the nuclear content of runx2/Cbfa1. Daidzein enhanced the nuclear content of progesterone and vitamin D receptors but not as much as did estradiol. All the effects of daidzein were blocked by ICI 182,780. We conclude that a low concentration of daidzein may exert its anti-resorptive action by increasing the activity of porcine mature osteoblasts via ERβ, by regulating runx2/Cbfa1 production, and by stimulating the secretion of key proteins involved in osteoclastogenesis, such as osteoprotegerin and RANK-ligand. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.