Estrogen Decreases Atherosclerosis in Part by Reducing Hepatic Acyl-CoA:Cholesterol Acyltransferase 2 (ACAT2) in Monkeys

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Objective—Estrogens decrease atherosclerosis progression, mediated in part through changes in plasma lipids and lipoproteins. This study aimed to determine estrogen-induced changes in hepatic cholesterol metabolism, plasma lipoproteins, and the relationship of these changes to atherosclerosis extent.Methods and Results—Ovariectomized monkeys (n=34) consumed atherogenic diets for 30 months which contained either no hormones (control, n=17) or conjugated equine estrogens (CEE, n=17) at a human dose equivalent of 0.625 mg/d. Hepatic cholesterol content, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) receptor expression, cholesterol 7α-hydroxylase and acyl-coenzyme A:cholesterol acyltransferase (ACAT) activity, and expression levels were determined. CEE treatment resulted in lower plasma concentrations of very-low- and intermediate- density lipoprotein cholesterol (V+IDLC; P=0.01), smaller LDL particles (P=0.002), and 50% lower hepatic cholesterol content (total, free, and esterified; P<0.05 for all). Total ACAT activity was significantly lower (P=0.01), explained primarily by reductions in the activity of ACAT2. Estrogen regulation of enzymatic activity was at the protein level as both ACAT1 and 2 protein, but not mRNA levels, were lower (P=0.02 and <0.0001, respectively). ACAT2 activity was significantly associated with hepatic total cholesterol, plasma V+IDLC cholesterol, and atherosclerosis.Conclusions—Atheroprotective effects of estrogen therapy may be related to reduced hepatic secretion of ACAT2-derived cholesteryl esters in plasma lipoproteins.

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