The role that estrogens play in the aging lung is poorly understood. Remodeling of the aging lung with thickening of the alveolar walls and reduction in the number of peripheral airways is well recognized. The present study was designed to address whether estrogen deficiency would affect age-associated changes in the lungs of female C57BL/6J mice. Lungs isolated from old mice (24 months old, estrogen-deficient) demonstrated decreased lung volume and decreased alveolar surface area. There was no difference in alveolar number in the lungs of old and young mice (6 months old, estrogen-replete). Estrogen replacement restored lung volume, alveolar surface area, and alveolar wall thickness to that of a young mouse. Estrogen receptor-α (ERα) protein expression increased without a change in ERβ protein expression in the lung tissue isolated from old mice. In the lungs of old mice, the number of apoptotic cells was increased as well as the activation of matrix metalloproteinase-2 and ERK. Young mice had the highest serum 17β-estradiol levels that decreased with age. Our data suggest that in the aging female mouse lung, estrogen deficiency and an increase of ERα expression lead to the development of an emphysematous phenotype. Estrogen replacement partially prevents these age-associated changes in the lung architecture by restoration of interalveolar septa. Understanding the role of estrogens in the remodeling of the lung during aging may facilitate interventions and therapies for aging-related lung disease in women.
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