Sexual Dimorphism in Obesity-Associated Endothelial ENaC Activity and Stiffening in Mice

Endocrinology. 2019 Dec 1;160(12):2918-2928. doi: 10.1210/en.2019-00483.


Obesity and insulin resistance stiffen the vasculature, with females appearing to be more adversely affected. As augmented arterial stiffness is an independent predictor of cardiovascular disease (CVD), the increased predisposition of women with obesity and insulin resistance to arterial stiffening may explain their heightened risk for CVD. However, the cellular mechanisms by which females are more vulnerable to arterial stiffening associated with obesity and insulin resistance remain largely unknown. In this study, we provide evidence that female mice are more susceptible to Western diet-induced endothelial cell stiffening compared with age-matched males. Mechanistically, we show that the increased stiffening of the vascular intima in Western diet-fed female mice is accompanied by enhanced epithelial sodium channel (ENaC) activity in endothelial cells (EnNaC). Our data further indicate that: (i) estrogen signaling through estrogen receptor α (ERα) increases EnNaC activity to a larger extent in females compared with males, (ii) estrogen-induced activation of EnNaC is mediated by the serum/glucocorticoid inducible kinase 1 (SGK-1), and (iii) estrogen signaling stiffens endothelial cells when nitric oxide is lacking and this stiffening effect can be reduced with amiloride, an ENaC inhibitor. In aggregate, we demonstrate a sexual dimorphism in obesity-associated endothelial stiffening, whereby females are more vulnerable than males. In females, endothelial stiffening with obesity may be attributed to estrogen signaling through the ERα-SGK-1-EnNaC axis, thus establishing a putative therapeutic target for female obesity-related vascular stiffening.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Endothelium, Vascular / metabolism
  • Endothelium, Vascular / physiopathology*
  • Epithelial Sodium Channels / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Obesity / physiopathology*
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Vascular Stiffness*


  • Epithelial Sodium Channels