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      Brain Cholesterol Metabolism and Its Defects: Linkage to Neurodegenerative Diseases and Synaptic Dysfunction

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          Cholesterol is an important constituent of cell membranes and plays a crucial role in the compartmentalization of the plasma membrane and signaling. Brain cholesterol accounts for a large proportion of the body’s total cholesterol, existing in two pools: the plasma membranes of neurons and glial cells and the myelin membranes . Cholesterol has been recently shown to be important for synaptic transmission, and a link between cholesterol metabolism defects and neurodegenerative disorders is now recognized. Many neurodegenerative diseases are characterized by impaired cholesterol turnover in the brain. However, at which stage the cholesterol biosynthetic pathway is perturbed and how this contributes to pathogenesis remains unknown. Cognitive deficits and neurodegeneration may be associated with impaired synaptic transduction. Defects in cholesterol biosynthesis can trigger dysfunction of synaptic transmission. In this review, an overview of cholesterol turnover under physiological and pathological conditions is presented (Huntington’s, Niemann-Pick type C diseases, Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome). We will discuss possible mechanisms by which cholesterol content in the plasma membrane influences synaptic processes. Changes in cholesterol metabolism in Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and autistic disorders are beyond the scope of this review and will be summarized in our next paper.

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          Most cited references 76

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          High cholesterol level is essential for myelin membrane growth.

          Cholesterol in the mammalian brain is a risk factor for certain neurodegenerative diseases, raising the question of its normal function. In the mature brain, the highest cholesterol content is found in myelin. We therefore created mice that lack the ability to synthesize cholesterol in myelin-forming oligodendrocytes. Mutant oligodendrocytes survived, but CNS myelination was severely perturbed, and mutant mice showed ataxia and tremor. CNS myelination continued at a reduced rate for many months, and during this period, the cholesterol-deficient oligodendrocytes actively enriched cholesterol and assembled myelin with >70% of the cholesterol content of wild-type myelin. This shows that cholesterol is an indispensable component of myelin membranes and that cholesterol availability in oligodendrocytes is a rate-limiting factor for brain maturation.
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            Reversal of defective lysosomal transport in NPC disease ameliorates liver dysfunction and neurodegeneration in the npc1-/- mouse.

             B. Liu,  S D Turley,  D Burns (2009)
            Niemann-Pick type C disease is largely attributable to an inactivating mutation of NPC1 protein, which normally aids movement of unesterified cholesterol (C) from the endosomal/lysosomal (E/L) compartment to the cytosolic compartment of cells throughout the body. This defect results in activation of macrophages in many tissues, progressive liver disease, and neurodegeneration. In the npc1(-/-) mouse, a model of this disease, the whole-animal C pool expands from 2,082 to 4,925 mg/kg body weight (bw) and the hepatic C pool increases from 132 to 1,485 mg/kg bw between birth and 49 days of age. A single dose of 2-hydroxypropyl-beta-cyclodextrin (CYCLO) administered at 7 days of age immediately caused this sequestered C to flow from the lysosomes to the cytosolic pool in many organs, resulting in a marked increase in cholesteryl esters, suppression of C but not fatty acid synthesis, down-regulation of genes controlled by sterol regulatory element 2, and up-regulation of many liver X receptor target genes. There was also decreased expression of proinflammatory proteins in the liver and brain. In the liver, where the rate of C sequestration equaled 79 mg x d(-1) x kg(-1), treatment with CYCLO within 24 h increased C movement out of the E/L compartment from near 0 to 233 mg x d(-1) x kg(-1). By 49 days of age, this single injection of CYCLO resulted in a reduction in whole-body C burden of >900 mg/kg, marked improvement in liver function tests, much less neurodegeneration, and, ultimately, significant prolongation of life. These findings suggest that CYCLO acutely reverses the lysosomal transport defect seen in NPC disease.
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              Lipid rafts in the maintenance of synapses, dendritic spines, and surface AMPA receptor stability.

              Cholesterol/sphingolipid microdomains (lipid rafts) in the membrane are involved in protein trafficking, formation of signaling complexes, and regulation of actin cytoskeleton. Here, we show that lipid rafts exist abundantly in dendrites of cultured hippocampal neurons, in which they are associated with several postsynaptic proteins including surface AMPA receptors. Depletion of cholesterol/sphingolipid leads to instability of surface AMPA receptors and gradual loss of synapses (both inhibitory and excitatory) and dendritic spines. The remaining synapses and spines in raft-depleted neurons become greatly enlarged. The importance of lipid rafts for normal synapse density and morphology could explain why cholesterol promotes synapse maturation in retinal ganglion cells (Mauch et al., 2001) and offers a potential link between disordered cholesterol metabolism and the synapse loss seen in neurodegenerative disease.

                Author and article information

                Acta Naturae
                Acta Naturae
                Acta Naturae
                A.I. Gordeyev
                Jan-Mar 2016
                : 8
                : 1
                : 58-73
                Kazan Medical University, Department of Normal Physiology, Butlerova str. 49, Kazan, Russia, 420012
                Copyright ® 2016 Park-media Ltd.

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

                Research Article
                Molecular Biology

                Life sciences

                cholesterol, synaptic transmission, oxysterols, neurodegenerative disease, lipid rafts


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