Post-translational regulation of endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS) by estrogens in the rat vagina

Biljana Musicki, Tongyun Liu, Travis D. Strong, Gwen A. Lagoda, Trinity J. Bivalacqua, Arthur L. Burnett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction. Estrogens control vaginal blood flow during female sexual arousal mostly through nitric oxide (NO). Although vascular effects of estrogens are attributed to an increase in endothelial NO production, the mechanisms of endothelial NO synthase (eNOS) regulation by estrogens in the vagina are largely unknown. Aims.: Our hypothesis was that estrogens regulate eNOS post-translationally in the vagina, providing a mechanism to affect NO bioavailability without changes in eNOS protein expression. Methods.: We measured eNOS phosphorylation and eNOS interaction with caveolin-1 and heat shock protein 90 (HSP90) in the distal and proximal vagina of female rats at diestrus, 7 days after ovariectomy and 2 days after replacement of ovariectomized rats with estradiol-17β (15 μg). Main Outcome Measures.: Molecular mechanisms of eNOS regulation by estrogen in the rat vagina. Results.: We localized phospho-eNOS (Ser-1177) immunohistochemically to the endothelium lining blood vessels and vaginal sinusoids. Estrogen withdrawal decreased phosphorylation of eNOS on its positive regulatory site (Ser-1177) and increased eNOS binding to its negative regulator caveolin-1 (without affecting eNOS/HSP90 interaction), and they were both normalized by estradiol replacement. Protein expressions of phosphorylated Akt (protein kinase B) and extracellular signal-regulated protein kinase 1/2 (ERK1/2) were not affected by estrogen status, suggesting that the effect of estrogens on eNOS (Ser-1177) phosphorylation was not mediated by activated AKT or ERK1/2. eNOS phosphorylation on its negative regulatory site (Ser-114) was increased in the vagina by estrogen withdrawal and normalized by estradiol replacement, implying that the maintenance of low phosphorylation of eNOS on this site by estradiol may limit eNOS interaction with caveolin-1 and preserve the enzyme's activity. Total eNOS, inducible NOS, caveolin-1, and HSP90 protein expressions were not affected by ovariectomy or estradiol replacement in the distal or proximal vagina. Conclusions.: These results define novel estrogen signaling mechanisms in the vagina which involve eNOS phosphorylation and eNOS-caveolin-1 interaction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1768-1777
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Sexual Medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2010


  • Caveolin-1
  • Heat Shock Protein 90
  • Phosphorylation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Reproductive Medicine
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Urology


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