The effect of estrogen and progesterone replacement therapy on the initiating events in atherogenesis was studied in surgically postmenopausal cynomolgus monkeys. Monkeys were ovariectomized and divided randomly into two groups, one receiving 17 beta-estradiol and cyclic progesterone treatment (n = 9) and ovariectomized controls receiving no hormone replacement therapy (n = 8). The monkeys were fed a moderately atherogenic diet for 18 wk to accelerate the early pathogenic processes but not to be of sufficient duration to produce grossly visible atherosclerotic lesions. Sex hormone replacement therapy decreased the accumulation of LDL and products of LDL degradation in the coronary arteries by greater than 70% while having no significant effect on plasma lipid, lipoprotein, or apoprotein concentrations. Arterial intimal lesions were small with no difference between groups. The reduction in arterial LDL metabolism occurred very early in the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis and was independent of indices of endothelial cell injury, such as enhanced endothelial cell turnover or leukocyte adhesion to the endothelium. Results of this study suggest that one mechanism by which sex hormone treatment inhibits the initiation of atherosclerosis is a direct effect at the level of the arterial wall by suppressing the uptake and/or degradation of LDL.
J D Wagner, T B Clarkson, R W St Clair, D C Schwenke, C A Shively, M R Adams