Estrogen replacement therapy has been associated with reduction of cardiovascular events in postmenopausal women, though the mechanism for this benefit remains unclear. Here we show that at physiological concentrations estrogen activates the anandamide membrane transporter of human endothelial cells and leads to rapid elevation of calcium (apparent within 5 minutes) and release of nitric oxide (within 15 minutes). These effects are mediated by estrogen binding to a surface receptor, which shows an apparent dissociation constant (Kd) of 9.4 ± 1.4 nM, a maximum binding (Bmax) of 356 ± 12 fmol x mg protein-1, and an apparent molecular mass of approximately 60 kDa. We also show that estrogen binding to surface receptors leads to stimulation of the anandamide-synthesizing enzyme phospholipase D and to inhibition of the anandamide-hydrolyzing enzyme fatty acid amide hydrolase, the latter effect mediated by 15-lipoxygenase activity. Because the endothelial transporter is shown to move anandamide across the cell membranes bidirectionally, taken together these data suggest that the physiological activity of estrogen is to stimulate the release, rather than the uptake, of anandamide from endothelial cells. Moreover, we show that anandamide released from estrogen-stimulated endothelial cells, unlike estrogen itself, inhibits the secretion of serotonin from adenosine diphosphate (ADP)-stimulated platelets. Therefore, it is suggested that the peripheral actions of anandamide could be part of the molecular events responsible for the beneficial effects of estrogen.
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