A number of studies have demonstrated that estradiol can stimulate endothelial nitric oxide synthase expression and activity, resulting in enhanced nitric oxide (NO) generation. However, its effect on the NO synthase cofactor, tetrahydrobiopterin are less clear. Cellular tetrahydrobiopterin levels are regulated, at least in part, by GTP cyclohydrolase 1 (GCH1). Thus, the purpose of this study was to determine the effect of estradiol on GCH1 expression and the regulatory mechanisms in pulmonary arterial endothelial cells. Our data indicate that 17β-estradiol (E2) increases GCH1 transcription in a dose- and time-dependent manner, whereas estrogen receptor antagonism or NOsynthase inhibition attenuated E2-stimulated GCH1 expression. Analysis of the GCH1 promoter fragment responsive to E2 revealed the presence of a cAMP response element, and we found that E2 triggers a rapid but transient elevation of phospho-cAMP response element-binding protein (CREB; <1 h) followed by a second sustained rise after 6 h. EMSA analysis revealed an increase in the binding of CREB during E2 treatment and mutation of the cAMP response element in the GCH1 promoter attenuated the E2-mediated increase in transcription. Furthermore, inhibition of the cAMP-dependent kinase, protein kinase A (PKA) completely abolished the E2-stimulated GCH1 promoter activity, whereas the stimulation of cAMP levels with forskolin increased GCH1 promoter activity, indicating the key role of cAMP in regulating GCH1 promoter activity. In conclusion, our results demonstrate that estradiol can modulate GCH1 expression via NO-mediated activation of CREB in pulmonary arterial endothelial cells. These findings provide new insight into the vascular protective effect of estradiol.
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