Over the past decade, clinical and basic research has demonstrated that estrogen has a dramatic impact on the response to vascular injury and the development of atherosclerosis. Further work has indicated that this is at least partially mediated by an enhancement in nitric oxide (NO) production by the endothelial isoform of NO synthase (eNOS) due to increases in both eNOS expression and level of activation. The effects on eNOS abundance are primarily mediated at the level of gene transcription, and they are dependent on estrogen receptors (ERs), which classically serve as transcription factors, but they are independent of estrogen response element action. Estrogen also has potent nongenomic effects on eNOS activity mediated by a subpopulation of ERα localized to caveolae in endothelial cells, where they are coupled to eNOS in a functional signaling module. These observations, which emphasize dependence on cell surface-associated receptors, provide evidence for the existence of a steroid receptor fast-action complex, or SRFC, in caveolae. Estrogen binding to ERα on the SRFC in caveolae leads to Gαi activation, which mediates downstream events. The downstream signaling includes activation of tyrosine kinase-MAPK and Akt/protein kinase B signaling, stimulation of heat shock protein 90 binding to eNOS, and perturbation of the local calcium environment, leading to eNOS phosphorylation and calmodulin-mediated eNOS stimulation. These unique genomic and nongenomic processes are critical to the vasoprotective and atheroprotective characteristics of estrogen. In addition, they serve as excellent paradigms for further elucidation of novel mechanisms of steroid hormone action.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism