Estrogen Receptor Control of Atherosclerotic Calcification and Smooth Muscle Cell Osteogenic Differentiation

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Journal Article
Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, 2017, 37 (6), pp. 1127 - 1137
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© 2017 American Heart Association, Inc. Objective-Vascular calcification is associated with increased risk of myocardial infarction and stroke. The objective of this work was to examine the ability of 17β-estradiol (E2) to stimulate calcification of vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMC) in vivo, using aged apolipoprotein E-null mice with advanced atherosclerotic lesions, and subsequently to explore underlying mechanisms in vitro. Approach and Results-Silastic E2 capsules were implanted into male and female apolipoprotein E-null mice aged 34 weeks. Plaque and calcified area were measured in the aortic sinus and innominate artery after 8 weeks. Immunohistochemical analysis examined expression of the estrogen receptors (estrogen receptor alpha and estrogen receptor beta [ERβ]). VSMC expression of osteogenic markers was examined using digital polymerase chain reaction. Advanced atherosclerotic lesions were present in all mice at the end of 8 weeks. In both male and female mice, E2 increased calcified area in a site-specific manner in the aortic sinus independently of plaque growth or lipid levels and occurred in association with a site-specific decrease in the proportion of ERβ-positive intimal cells. Calcified lesions expressed collagen I and bone sialoprotein, with decreased matrix Gla protein. In vitro, E2 suppressed ERβ expression and increased VSMC mineralization, demonstrating increased collagen I and II, osteocalcin and bone sialoprotein, and reduced matrix Gla protein and osteopontin. Antagonism or RNA silencing of estrogen receptor alpha, ERβ, or both further increased VSMC mineralization. Conclusions-We have demonstrated that E2 can drive calcification in advanced atherosclerotic lesions by promoting the differentiation of VSMC to osteoblast-like cells, a process which is augmented by inhibition of estrogen receptor alpha or ERβ activity.
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