Estrogen in vascular smooth muscle cells: A friend or a foe?
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Cardiovascular disease (CVD) continues to be the leading cause of death worldwide. The effect of estrogen on these diseases has been assessed in in vitro and in vivo models, as well as in observational studies. Collectively, these studies alluded to a cardiovasculo-protective effect of estrogen. However, comprehensive clinical investigation failed to produce concrete proof of a cardiovascular protective effect for hormone replacement therapy (HRT), let alone rule out potential harm. These seemingly paradoxical effects of estrogen were explained by the �theory of timing and opportunity�. This theory states that the effect of estrogen, whether cardiovasculo-protective or pathological, significantly depends on the age of the individual when estrogen administration takes place. Here, we review the conflicting effects of estrogen on vascular smooth muscle cells, mainly proliferation and migration as two cellular capacities intimately related to physiology and pathophysiology of the cardiovascular system. Furthermore, we critically discuss the major parameters and signaling pathways that may account for the aforementioned paradoxical observations, as well as the key molecular players involved.