Women are less susceptible to heart failure than men. This gender-specific protection apparently stems from the presence of oestrogen, as research in this week's Nature (Vol. 416, No. 6878, 21 Mar 2002) illustrates.
Mice without an intracellular receptor for the immunosuppressant drug FK506 protein develop abnormal calcium release in skeletal muscle cells. Males also develop cardiac hypertrophy, one of the initial signs of heart failure. Female mice lose their protection against hypertrophy when treated with the oestrogen-blocker tamoxifen.
Researchers Michael Kotlikoff of Cornell University, Ithaca, and colleagues hope that the FK506 knockout mice will help investigate how sex hormones modulate the signalling programme that calcium triggers.
Understanding of the molecular mechanisms behind oestrogen's effects will be "crucial to comprehending gender-based differences in cardiovascular function," agree Mark T. Nelson and Gerald M. Herrera of the University of Vermont, Burlington, in an accompanying News and Views article.
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