The inhibitory effects of estrogen (17β-estradiol) on atherosclerosis have been well documented in numerous animal models, and epidemiological evidence supports this protective effect in humans. The detailed mechanisms for this protection are not understood, but most are thought to be mediated through estrogen receptors (ERs), of which two are known (ERα and ERβ). To investigate the role of ERα in the atheroprotective effect of 17β-estradiol (E2), we ovariectomized female mice that lack apoE (AAee) or lack both apoE and ERα (ααee), and treated half of them with E2 for three months. E2 treatment of ovariectomized AAee females dramatically reduced the size of the lesions as well as their histological complexity. Plasma cholesterol was significantly reduced in this group, although the observed extent of protection by E2 was greater than could be explained solely by the change in lipid levels. In contrast, E2 treatment of ovariectomized ααee females caused minimal reduction in lesion size and no reduction in total plasma cholesterol compared with ααee mice without E2, demonstrating that ERα is a major mediator of the atheroprotective effect of E2. Nevertheless, E2 treatment significantly reduced the complexity of plaques in the ααee females, although not to the same degree as in AAee females, suggesting the existence of ERα-independent atheroprotective effects of E2.
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