The mortality of clinical prostate cancer is lower in Asian populations than in American or European men. Asian men typically consume more soy than their Western counterparts, leading to the investigation of individual components, particularly phytoestrogens, as protective factors against prostate cancer. Genistein, the predominant isoflavone in soy, has been reported to reduce the incidence of prostate cancer in animal models, but the underlying biological action remains to be elucidated. The purpose of this investigation was to identify the effects of the phytoestrogen, genistein and the synthetic estrogen diethylstilbestrol (DES), as a control, on development and function of the rat dorsolateral prostate (DLP) when given in the diet. The effects of testosterone and dihydrotestosterone (DHT) injections were also tested. Analysis of individual lobes of the DLP revealed that 1000 mg/kg, but not 250 mg/kg, of a genistein AIN-76A diet slightly reduced lateral prostate type 1 (LP1) bud perimeter. However, expression of the secretory dorsal protein 1 (DP1) and 5α-reductase type II activity were not altered in the prostate. This suggested that prostate differentiation, and not toxicity, had occurred. DES in the diet reduced and testosterone injections elevated relative prostate weights and perimeters of the dorsal, LP1, lateral prostate type 2 and DP1 expression. DHT increased relative prostate weights but did not significantly increase individual lobe perimeter. Unlike DES, maximally tolerated doses of genistein in the diet were not toxic to the rat prostate.