Oxysterols are a family of 27-carbon cholesterol oxidation derivatives that may be absorbed with the diet or originated endogenously. These cholesterol metabolites are now considered to be potentially involved in the initiation and progression of major chronic diseases including atherosclerosis, neurodegenerative processes, diabetes, kidney failure, and ethanol intoxication. Thus we deemed it of interest to comprehensively analyze the actual relevance of oxysterols, acting through up-regulation of inflammation, apoptosis and fibrosis, to human pathology from cell signaling to disease expression; we also review the available literature on related therapeutic prospects. Oxysterols of pathophysiologic relevance generally possess a strong pro-oxidant effect, chiefly since they activate NAD(P)H oxidases. Further, stimulation of the MEK/ERK signaling pathway appears to be a common feature of the biochemical effects of this class of compounds. Selective metabolic inhibitors of NAD(P)H oxidase and the MAPK pathway might quench or even prevent the cytotoxic effects of pathological accumulation of cholesterol oxides in cells and tissues. The marked reduction of plasma oxysterols reported for statin-based therapy is interesting: it has been associated with a lower incidence and prevalence of Alzheimers disease (AD) and vascular dementia. Quenching reactive oxygen species generation seems the likely mechanism exploited by statins against AD incidence and development; intervention with antioxidants might thus also be reconsidered as regards molecular “integrated” prevention and possible therapy of human “multifactorial” disease processes.
Keywords: Cholesterol, oxysterols, lipid metabolism, apoptosis, inflammation, statins, antioxidants
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