Cholesterol is essential for the growth and function of all mammalian cells, but abnormally elevated levels of circulating low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) are a major risk factor for the development of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD). For many years, statin drugs have been used to effectively lower LDL-C, but ASCVD still persists in most parts of the world. Hence, additional LDL-C lowering is now recommended, and the search for therapeutic strategies that work in synergy with statins has now begun. Intestinal absorption and biliary excretion of cholesterol represent two major pathways that continue to show promise as druggable processes. Importantly, both of these complex physiological pathways are tightly regulated by key proteins located at the apical surface of the small intestine and the liver. One of these proteins, the target of ezetimibe Niemann-Pick C1-Like 1 (NPC1L1), was recently identified to be essential for intestinal cholesterol absorption and protect against excessive biliary sterol loss. In direct opposition of NPC1L1, the heterodimer of ATP-binding cassette transporters G5 and G8 (ABCG5/ABCG8) has been shown to be critical for promoting biliary cholesterol secretion in the liver, and has also been proposed to play a direct role in intestinal disposal of sterols. The purpose of this review is to summarize the current state of knowledge regarding the function of these opposing apical cholesterol transporters, and provide a framework for future studies examining these proteins.
Keywords: Ezetimibe, statin, cholesterol, phytosterol, sterolin, fecal sterol loss, sitosterolemia, biliary sterol secretion
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