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Circulation Research

Year: 2010  |  Volume: 107  |  Issue: 4  |  Page No.: 466 - 475

Estrogen Inhibits Vascular Calcification via Vascular RANKL System: Common Mechanism of Osteoporosis and Vascular Calcification

M. K Osako, H Nakagami, N Koibuchi, H Shimizu, F Nakagami, H Koriyama, M Shimamura, T Miyake, H Rakugi and R. Morishita



Arterial calcification and osteoporosis are associated in postmenopausal women. RANK (the receptor activator of nuclear factor B), RANKL (RANK ligand), and osteoprotegerin are key proteins in bone metabolism and have been found at the site of aortic calcification. The role of these proteins in vasculature, as well as the contribution of estrogen to vascular calcification, is poorly understood.


To clarify the mechanism of RANKL system to vascular calcification in the context of estrogen deficiency.

Methods and Results:

RANKL induced the calcification inducer bone morphogenetic protein-2 by human aortic endothelial cells (HAECs) and decreased the calcification inhibitor matrix Gla protein (MGP) in human aortic smooth muscle cells (HASMCs), as quantified by real-time PCR and Western blot analysis. RANKL also induced bone-related gene mRNA expression and calcium deposition (Alizarin red staining) followed by the osteogenic differentiation of HASMCs. Estrogen inhibited RANKL signaling in HAECs and HASMCs mainly through estrogen receptor . Apolipoprotein E–deficient mice fed with Western high-fat diet for 3 months presented atherosclerotic calcification (Oil red and Alizarin red staining) and osteoporosis (microcomputed tomographic analysis) after ovariectomy and increased expression of RANKL, RANK, and osteopontin in atherosclerotic lesion, as detected by in situ hybridization. Estrogen replacement inhibited osteoporosis and the bone morphogenetic protein osteogenic pathway in aorta by decreasing phosphorylation of smad-1/5/8 and increasing MGP mRNA expression.


RANKL contributes to vascular calcification by regulating bone morphogenetic protein-2 and MGP expression, as well as bone-related proteins, and is counteracted by estrogen in a receptor-dependent manner.

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