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Circulation. 1999 Dec 7;100(23):2319-25.

Estrogen and progesterone reduce lipid accumulation in human monocyte-derived macrophages: a sex-specific effect.

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Heart Research Institute and Department of Cardiology, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Camperdown, Sydney, Australia.



Males have an earlier onset and greater prevalence of clinical atherosclerosis than age-matched females, which is consistent with an atheroprotective effect of the female sex steroids, estrogen and progesterone. We therefore examined the effects of estrogen and progesterone on human foam cell formation, a key early event in atherogenesis.


Monocytes from healthy female and male donors were obtained from white cell concentrates and allowed to differentiate into macrophages over 10 days. These human monocyte-derived macrophages (MDMs) were exposed to either control (0.1% vol/vol ethanol) or estrogen or progesterone treatment on days 3 through 10. Lipid loading was achieved on days 8 through 10 by incubation with acetylated LDL. Lipid from the MDMs was then extracted for analysis of cholesteryl ester (CE) content. 17beta-Estradiol at both physiological (2 nmol/L) and supraphysiological (20 and 200 nmol/L) concentrations produced a significant reduction in macrophage CE content (88+/-3%, 88+/-2%, and 85+/-4%, respectively; P<0.02 compared with control). Physiological and supraphysiological levels of progesterone (2, 10, and 200 nmol/L) produced an even more dramatic reduction in CE content (74+/-9%, 56+/-10%, and 65+/-8%, respectively; P<0.002 compared with control). This effect could be abrogated by coincubation with the progesterone receptor antagonist RU486. Neither estrogen nor progesterone produced a reduction in lipid loading in male-donor-derived MDMs. Detailed lipid trafficking studies demonstrated that both estrogen and progesterone altered macrophage uptake and/or processing of modified LDL.


Physiological levels of estrogen and progesterone are associated with a female-sex-specific reduction in human macrophage lipid loading, which is consistent with an atheroprotective effect.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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