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Testosterone Protects Against Atherosclerosis in Male Mice by Targeting Thymic Epithelial Cells—Brief ReportHighlights [Basic Sciences]

Objective—Androgen deprivation therapy has been associated with increased cardiovascular risk in men. Experimental studies support that testosterone protects against atherosclerosis, but the target cell remains unclear. T cells are important modulators of atherosclerosis, and deficiency of testosterone or its receptor, the AR (androgen receptor), induces a prominent increase in thymus size. Here, we tested the hypothesis that atherosclerosis induced by testosterone deficiency in male mice is T-cell dependent. Further, given the important role of the thymic epithelium for T-cell homeostasis and development, we hypothesized that depletion of the AR in thymic epithelial cells will result in increased atherosclerosis.Approach and Results—Prepubertal castration of male atherosclerosis-prone apoE−/− mice increased atherosclerotic lesion area. Depletion of T cells using an anti-CD3 antibody abolished castration-induced atherogenesis, demonstrating a role of T cells. Male mice with depletion of the AR specifically in epithelial cells (E-ARKO [epithelial cell-specific AR knockout] mice) showed increased thymus weight, comparable with that of castrated mice. E-ARKO mice on an apoE−/− background displayed significantly increased atherosclerosis and increased infiltration of T cells in the vascular adventitia, supporting a T-cell–driven mechanism. Consistent with a role of the thymus, E-ARKO apoE−/− males subjected to prepubertal thymectomy showed no atherosclerosis phenotype.Conclusions—We show that atherogenesis induced by testosterone/AR deficiency is thymus- and T-cell dependent in male mice and that the thymic epithelial cell is a likely target cell for the antiatherogenic actions of testosterone. These insights may pave the way for new therapeutic strategies for safer endocrine treatment of prostate cancer.

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