Although the cardioprotective effect of estrogen is well recognized, the mechanisms by which this sex steroid provides a reduction in coronary artery disease are not fully understood. Vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMC) are present in early atherosclerosis and become the dominant cell type. VSMC contain estrogen receptors and may have specific responses to estrogen. We studied the effect of β-estradiol on the proliferation of coronary VSMC obtained from sexually mature male, female, and oophorectomized pigs. Alpha- estradiol, an inactive isomer of estradiol, had no effect on cells obtained from male or female animals. In vascular smooth muscle cells obtained from sexually mature female animals, significant inhibition of proliferation of coronary vascular smooth muscle cells was noted at physiologic concentrations of β-estradiol. Progesterone inhibited VSMC proliferation at concentrations of 10-9M. In contrast, β-estradiol did not alter proliferation in porcine coronary vascular smooth muscle cells obtained from sexually mature male or from oophorectomized female animals. This study is the first to indicate, in an animal model, specific gender-related differences in cell proliferation in response to sex steroid hormones.
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