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The immune modulatory role of estrogens in inflammation is complex. Both pro- and anti-inflammatory effects of estrogens have been described. Estrogens bind both estrogen receptor (ER)α and β. The contribution of ERα and ERβ to ER-mediated immune modulation was studied in delayed type hypersensitivity (DTH) and in experimental arthritis
ER-mediated suppression of rat adjuvant arthritis (AA) was studied using ethinyl-estradiol (EE) and a selective ERβ agonist (ERB-79). Arthritis was followed for 2 weeks. Next, effects of ER agonists (ethinyl-estradiol, an ERα selective agonist (ERA-63) and a selective ERβ agonist (ERB-79) on the development of a tetanus toxoid (TT)-specific delayed type hypersensitivity response in wild type (WT) and in ERα - or ERβ-deficient mice were investigated. Finally, EE and ERA-63 were tested for their immune modulating potential in established collagen induced arthritis in DBA/1J mice. Arthritis was followed for three weeks. Joint pathology was examined by histology and radiology. Local synovial cytokine production was analyzed using Luminex technology. Sera were assessed for COMP as a biomarker of cartilage destruction.
EE was found to suppress clinical signs and symptoms in rat AA. The selective ERβ agonist ERB-79 had no effect on arthritis symptoms in this model. In the TT-specific DTH model, EE and the selective ERα agonist ERA-63 suppressed the TT-specific swelling response in WT and ERβKO mice but not in ERαKO mice. As seen in the AA model, the selective ERβ agonist ERB-79 did not suppress inflammation. Treatment with EE or ERA-63 suppressed clinical signs in collagen induced arthritis (CIA) in WT mice. This was associated with reduced inflammatory infiltrates and decreased levels of proinflammatory cytokines in CIA joints.
ERα, but not ERβ, is key in ER-mediated suppression of experimental arthritis. It remains to be investigated how these findings translate to human autoimmune disease.