Ethinyl Estradiol Acutely Attenuates Abnormal Coronary Vasomotor Responses to Acetlcholine in Postmenopausal Women

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Estrogen administration in postmenopausal women is associated with a 50% reduction in the clinical manifestations of coronary artery disease. The mechanisms are not known, although one potential explanation is estrogen-induced modulation of coronary vasoreactivity. Acetylcholine is an endo-thelium dependent vasodilator that may be used to assess coronary vasoreactivity and elicits coronary responses that parallel those found with common daily vasomotor stimuli. Therefore, we tested whether estrogen attenuates abnormal coronary vasomotor responses to acetylcholine in postmenopausal women.

Methods and Results

Acetylcholine-induced changes in coronary flow, resistance, and cross-sectional area were determined before and 15 minutes after intravenous administration of ethinyl estradiol (EE, 35, ug) in 15 postmenopausal women. The influence of estrogen on basal coronary flow, resistance, and epicardial cross-sectional area was also assessed by measuring these parameters before and after EE or placebo administration in 33 women. Estrogen altered basal coronary vasomotor tone in 22 women as manifested by an EE-induced 23.3 ± 4.5% (mean ± SEM) increase (P < .01) in coronary flow, a 15.0 ± 3.2% decrease (P < .01) in resistance, and a 20.0 ± 6.5% increase (P = .02) in epicardial cross-sectional area. Placebo administration in 11 women did not change these parameters. Estrogen also attenuated abnormal coronary vasomotor responses to acetylcholine. Seven women who exhibited a paradoxical acetylcholine-induced decrease in coronary flow (− 33.5 ± 12.3%, P < .01) and increase in resistance (38.9 ± 14.1%, P = .05) and seven who had an abnormal acetylcholine-induced decrease in epicardial cross-sectional area (− 14.2 ± 4.4%; P = .04) did not have acetylcholine-induced changes in these parameters after EE administration. Acetylcholine induced flow, resistance, and cross-sec-tional area responses before and after EE were significantly different (P < .01, P = .02, and P = .02, respectively). Normal coronary responses to acetylcholine were not affected by EE administration.


EE attenuates abnormal coronary vasomotor responses to acetylcholine in postmenopausal women. EE also decreases basal coronary vasomotor tone as manifested by increased coronary flow, decreased resistance, and in-creased epicardial cross-sectional area. These acute effects of estrogen on coronary vasoreactivity may explain, in part, the cardioprotective effects of estrogen in postmenopausal women.

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