Nongenomic, endothelium-independent effects of estrogen on human coronary smooth muscle are mediated by type I (neuronal) NOS and PI3-kinase-Akt signaling

Guichun Han, Handong Ma, Rajesh Chintala, Katsuya Miyake, David J.R. Fulton, Scott A. Barman, Richard E. White

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

71 Scopus citations


Sex steroids exert profound and controversial effects on cardiovascular function. For example, estrogens have been reported to either ameliorate or exacerbate coronary heart disease. Although estrogen dilates coronary arteries from a variety of species, the molecular basis for this acute, nongenomic effect is unclear. Moreover, we know very little of how estrogen affects human coronary artery smooth muscle cells (HCASMC). The purpose of this study was to elucidate nongenomic estrogen signal transduction in HCASMC. We have used tissue (arterial tension studies), cellular (single-channel patch clamp, fluorescence), and molecular (protein expression) techniques to now identify novel targets of estrogen action in HCASMC: type I (neuronal) nitric oxide synthase (nNOS) and phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3-kinase)-Akt. 17β-Estradiol (E2) increased NO-stimulated fluorescence in HCASMC, and cell-attached patch-clamp experiments revealed that stimulation of nNOS leads to increased activity of calcium-activated potassium (BK Ca) channels in these cells. Furthermore, overexpression of nNOS protein in HCASMC greatly enhanced BKCa channel activity. Immunoblot studies demonstrated that E2 enhances Akt phosphorylation in HCASMC and that wortmannin, an inhibitor of PI3-kinase, attenuated E 2-stimulated channel activity, NO production, Akt phosphorylation, and estrogen-stimulated coronary relaxation. These studies implicate the PI3-kinase/Akt signaling axis as an estrogen transduction component in vascular smooth muscle cells. We conclude, therefore, that estrogen opens BKCa channels in HCASMC by stimulating nNOS via a transduction sequence involving PI3-kinase and Akt. These findings now provide a molecular mechanism that can explain the clinical observation that estrogen enhances coronary blood flow in patients with diseased or damaged coronary arteries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)H314-H321
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Heart and Circulatory Physiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2007


  • Heat shock protein 90
  • Human coronary circulation
  • Nitric oxide

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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