Aging women and their endothelium: Probing the relative role of estrogen on vasodilator function

Yasina B. Somani, James A. Pawelczyk, Mary Jane De Souza, Penny M. Kris-Etherton, David N. Proctor

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


Despite signifi-cant decreases in cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality in the past three decades, it still remains the leading cause of death in women. Following menopause and the accompanying loss of estrogen, women experience a unique, accelerated rise in CVD risk factors. Dysfunction of the endothelium represents an important antecedent to CVD development, with rapid declines in endothelial vasodilator function reportedly taking place across the menopause transition. Importantly, the decline in endothelial function is independent of chronological age and is associated with estrogen deficiency. Estrogen-mediated effects, including increasing nitric oxide bioavailability and attenuating oxidative stress and inflammation, contribute to preserving endothelial health. This review will discuss studies that have probed the role of estrogen on endothelial vasodilator function in women at discrete stages of the menopause transition and the effects of estradiol supplementation in postmenopausal women. Estrogen receptor signaling is also an important aspect of endothelial function in women, and studies suggest that expression is reduced with both acute and prolonged estrogen deficiency. Changes in regulatory mechanisms of estrogen receptor-∝ expression as well as sensitivity to estrogen may underlie the differential effects of estrogen therapy in early (≤5 yr past final menstrual period) and late postmenopausal women (κ5 yr past final menstrual period). Lastly, this review presents potential therapeutic targets that include increasing L-arginine bioavailability and estrogen receptor activation to prevent endothelial dysfunction in postmenopausal women as a strategy for decreasing CVD mortality in this high-risk population.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)H395-H404
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Heart and Circulatory Physiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physiology
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Physiology (medical)


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