Edwards MR, Dai R, Heid B, Cowan C, Werre SR, Cecere T, and Ahmed SA
Sci Rep 10, 5210 (2020)
Estrogens have been shown to regulate the immune system and modulate multiple autoimmune diseases. 17α-ethinyl estradiol (EE), a synthetic analog of 17β-estradiol, is prescribed commonly and found in oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapies. Surprisingly, few studies have investigated the immunoregulatory effects of exposure to EE, especially in autoimmunity. In this study, we exposed autoimmune-prone female MRL/lpr mice to a human-relevant dose of EE through the oral route of exposure. Since lupus patients are prone to infections, groups of mice were injected with viral (Imiquimod, a TLR7 agonist) or bacterial (ODN 2395, a TLR9 agonist) surrogates. We then evaluated autoimmune disease parameters, kidney disease, and response to in vivo TLR7/9 pathogenic signals. EE-exposed mice had increased proteinuria as early as 7 weeks of age. Proteinuria, blood urea nitrogen, and glomerular immune complex deposition were also exacerbated when compared to controls. Production of cytokines by splenic leukocytes were altered in EE-exposed mice. Our study shows that oral exposure to EE, even at a very low dose, can exacerbate azotemia, increase clinical markers of renal disease, enhance glomerular immune complex deposition, and modulate TLR7/9 cytokine production in female MRL/lpr mice. This study may have implications for EE-exposure risk for genetically lupus-prone individuals.