Estrogen and hormone replacement therapies are being tested to prevent the incidence of cardiovascular disease in postmenopausal women. In spite of the evidence from several epidemiological studies suggesting that estrogens protect against atherosclerosis and associated diseases, controversy exists. Moreover, it is important to develop synthetic compounds that achieve the beneficial effects of estrogens on the cardiovascular system while minimizing such undesirable effects on other tissues as the increased risk of endometrial and breast cancer. Some drugs that modulate estrogen function in a tissue-specific manner (Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators; SERMs) have been discovered and are currently being used in clinical practice. An example of these is raloxifene. Clinical and experimental data support the consideration of endothelium as a target for estradiol and other sexual hormones. Among other actions, estradiol has been implicated in the control of prostacyclin production through cyclooxygenases (COX) regulation in endothelial cells. Prostacyclins are powerful vasodilators and potent inhibitors of platelet aggregation which are produced from free arachidonic acid through the catalytic activity of two COX: COX-1 and COX-2. Together, these COX represent the main control mechanism for prostacyclin production. Although several nonspecific COX inhibitors have been available for decades (aspirin, indomethacin, ibuprofen), COX-2 selective inhibitors have been commercialized only within the last few years, thus making it possible to increase the study and treatment of different disorders. This review will discuss clinical and experimental data that document the endothelial effects of estradiol and SERMs on prostacyclin production and COX regulation, their vascular consequences, and their possible interactions with COX inhibitors.
Keywords: Anti-inflammatory drugs, endothelium dysfunction, hormone replacement therapy, prostacyclin, raloxifene, thromboxane
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