Dysregulated free cholesterol (FC) metabolism has been implicated in nearly all stages of atherosclerosis, the underlying cause of most cardiovascular disease. According to a widely cited model, the burden of macrophage FC in the arterial wall is relieved by transhepatic reverse cholesterol transport (RCT), which comprises three successive steps: (1) macrophage FC efflux to high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and/or its major protein, apolipoprotein AI; (2) FC esterification by lecithin:cholesterol acyltransferase (LCAT); and (3) HDL-cholesteryl ester (CE) uptake via the hepatic HDL-receptor, scavenger receptor class B type 1 (SR-B1). Recent studies have challenged the validity of this model, most notably the role of LCAT, which appears to be of minor importance. In mice, most macrophage-derived FC is rapidly cleared from plasma (t1/2 < 5 min) without esterification by hepatic uptake; the remainder is taken up by multiple tissue and cell types, especially erythrocytes. Further, some FC is cleared by the nonhepatic transintestinal pathway. Lastly, FC movement among lipid surfaces is reversible, so that a higher-than-normal level of HDL-FC bioavailability-defined by high plasma HDL levels concurrent with a high mol% HDL-FC-leads to the transfer of excess FC to cells in vivo. SR-B1-/- mice provide an animal model to study the mechanistic consequences of high HDL-FC bioavailability that provokes atherosclerosis and other metabolic abnormalities. Future efforts should aim to reduce HDL-FC bioavailability, thereby reducing FC accretion by tissues and the attendant atherosclerosis.
- free cholesterol bioavailability
- high-density lipoproteins
- lipid metabolism
- reverse cholesterol transport
ASJC Scopus subject areas