Estrogen can reduce risk of liver and heart disease in women

Supported by a National Biophotonics and Imaging Platform Ireland (NBIP Ireland) grant, a team of researchers from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI; Dublin, Ireland) and the University of California Irvine (UC Irvine) have discovered how estrogen can reduce the risk of liver and heart disease.

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The research shows the beneficial effect that estrogen (the female hormone) has on liver metabolism by revealing a new type of estrogen receptor, which controls estrogen-responsive genes that regulate cholesterol and fatty acid production.

Professor Brian Harvey, RCSI Principal Investigator, says that estrogen tends to protect women against high cholesterol and heart disease during the child-bearing years. "Our research has allowed us to gain important insights into how estrogen may suppress some genes and prevent excessive accumulation of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood that can progress to heart disease and liver cancers. This leaves the door open for the development of drugs that can decrease the incidence of liver and heart disease in women."

This female-specific study showed that estrogen binds to a new type of estrogen receptor at the cell membrane and not in the nucleus of the cell. This activates a network of enzymes that slows down a regulator of genes (SREB), which usually drive the build-up of cholesterol in the liver. Estrogen was also found to suppress lipid metabolism in general, including the accumulation of fatty acids and harmful triglycerides.

The team at UC Irvine was led by chief endocrinologist Dr. Ellis Levin, who says that estrogen may be a deterrent to liver cancer, as men get this type of cancer at a rate of four to six times more than women. The team is now testing compounds--including a transgenic mouse--that target the membrane estrogen receptor to see the impact for such diseases, he explains.

The study, which has been published in the journal Science Signalling, was conducted over four years and supported by additional grants from the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Veterans Affairs USA, the EU Marie Curie Actions, and the Higher Education Authority Programme for Third Level Institutions (PRTLI). For more information, please visit http://stke.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/sigtrans;6/276/ra36.

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