Background: Controversy exists over the association of estrogen and cardiovascular disease. Estrogen receptors (ERs) α and β are expressed in the endothelial cells and vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs) of many arteries, but the relative importance of ERα or ERβ in mediating the vascular response to estrogens is not well defined, particularly in humans. We have shown previously that postmenopausal women receiving hormone therapy (HT) had lower mean coronary artery calcium, plaque area, and calcium-to-plaque ratio compared with untreated women. In this study, we examined coronary artery ERα and ERβ expression in pre- and postmenopausal women as a function of plaque area, calcium area, calcium-to-plaque ratio, and estrogen status. Methods: Coronary arteries were obtained at autopsy from a total of 55 women: nine premenopausal women, 13 postmenopausal women on HT and 33 untreated postmenopausal women (non-HT). Coronary calcification was quantified by contact microradiography, and atherosclerotic plaque area was measured histologically. Coronary artery cross-sections were immunostained for ERα and ERβ, and the amount of receptors was estimated semiquantitatively in each arterial wall layer (intima, adventitia, and media). Double immunofluorescence was used to colocalize ERα and ERβ with smooth muscle actin, a marker of VSMCs. Results: ERβ and ERα were expressed in all artery wall layers, but most avidly in the media (P = 0.001), and colocalized with VSMCs. ERβ expression exceeded ERα expression in all wall layers (P < 0.001) and was adjacent to areas of calcium deposition. ERβ expression in the intimal layer correlated with calcium content, plaque area, and calcium-to-plaque ratio (all P < 0.01) and tended to be greater in non-HT than in HT women (P = 0.06). ERα expression did not vary significantly among groups, nor did it correlate with calcium content, plaque area or calcium-to-plaque ratio. Expression of ERα but not ERβ declined with age (P < 0.01) in HT women only. Age had no effect on ERα or ERβ expression in non-HT or premenopausal women. Conclusions: ERβ is the predominant ER in human coronary arteries and correlates with coronary calcification, a marker of severe atherosclerosis. Increased ERβ expression is linked to advanced atherosclerosis and calcification independent of age or hormone status. Future pharmacogenetic studies that target this receptor are needed to confirm causality.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
- Clinical Biochemistry
- Biochemistry, medical