Atherosclerosis has been characterized as a chronic inflammatory response to cholesterol deposition in arteries. Plasma high density lipoprotein (HDL) levels bear a strong independent inverse relationship with atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. One central antiatherogenic role of HDL is believed to be its ability to remove excessive peripheral cholesterol back to the liver for subsequent catabolism and excretion, a physiologic process termed reverse cholesterol transport (RCT). Cholesterol efflux from macrophage foam cells, the initial step of RCT is the most relevant step with respect to atherosclerosis. The ATP-binding cassette (ABC) transporters ABCA1 and ABCG1 play crucial roles in the efflux of cellular cholesterol to HDL and its apolipoproteins. Moreover, ABCA1 and ABCG1 affect cellular inflammatory cytokine secretion by modulating cholesterol content in the plasma membrane and within intracellular compartments. In humans, ABCA1 mutations can cause a severe HDL-deficiency syndrome characterized by cholesterol deposition in tissue macrophages and prevalent atherosclerosis. Disrupting Abca1 or Abcg1 in mice promotes accumulation of excessive cholesterol in macrophages, and physiological manipulation of ABCA1 expression affects atherogenesis. Here we review recent advances in the role of ABCA1 and ABCG1 in HDL metabolism, macrophage cholesterol efflux, inflammation, and atherogenesis. Next, we summarize the structure, expression, and regulation of ABCA1 and ABCG1. Finally, we give an update on the progress and pitfalls of therapeutic approaches that target ABCA1 and ABCG1 to stimulate the flux of lipids through the RCT pathway.
Keywords: Atherosclerosis, macrophages, cholesterol, inflammation, ABCA1, ABCG1, HDL metabolism, transcription, transporters, lipid homeostasis
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