Cell-specific discrimination of desmosterol and desmosterol mimetics confers selective regulation of LXR and SREBP pathways in macrophages

Evan D. Muse, Shan Yu, Chantle R. Edillor, Jenhan Tao, Nathanael J. Spann, Ty D. Troutman, Jason S. Seidman, Adam Henke, Jason T. Roland, Katherine A. Ozeki, Jeffrey G. McDonald, John Bahadorani, Sotirios Tsimikas, Tamar R. Grossman, Matthew S. Tremblay, Christopher K. Glass

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Activation of liver X receptors (LXRs) with synthetic agonists promotes reverse cholesterol transport and protects against atherosclerosis in mouse models. Most synthetic LXR agonists also cause marked hypertriglyceridemia by inducing the expression of SREBP1c and downstream genes that drive fatty acid biosynthesis. Recent studies demonstrated that desmosterol, an intermediate in the cholesterol biosynthetic pathway that suppresses SREBP processing by binding to SCAP, also binds and activates LXRs and is the most abundant LXR ligand in macrophage foam cells. Here, we explore the potential of increasing endogenous desmosterol production or mimicking its activity as a means of inducing LXR activity while simultaneously suppressing SREBP1c induced hypertriglyceridemia. Unexpectedly, while desmosterol strongly activated LXR target genes and suppressed SREBP pathways in mouse and human macrophages, it had almost no activity in mouse or human hepatocytes in vitro. We further demonstrate that sterol-based selective modulators of LXRs have biochemical and transcriptional properties predicted of desmosterol mimetics and selectively regulate LXR function in macrophages in vitro and in vivo. These studies thereby reveal cell-specific discrimination of endogenous and synthetic regulators of LXRs and SREBPs, providing a molecular basis for dissociation of LXR functions in macrophages from those in liver that lead to hypertriglyceridemia. SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT The beneficial effects of LXR pathway activation in the prevention of atherosclerotic heart disease have long been appreciated. However, efforts to translate those effects in humans with synthetic LXR ligands has been met with the unintended consequence of hypertriglyceridemia, a product of co-activation of SREBP1c. Natural LXR ligands such as desmosterol do not promote hypertriglyceridemia because of coordinate down-regulation of the SREBP pathway. Here, we demonstrate that synthetic desmosterol mimetics activate LXR pathways macrophages both in vitro and in vivo without co-stimulation of SREBP1c. Unexpectedly, desmosterol and synthetic desmosterol mimetics almost no effect on LXR activity in hepatocytes in comparison to conventional synthetic LXR ligands. These findings reveal cell-specific differences in LXR responses to natural and synthetic ligands in macrophages and liver cells that provide a conceptually new basis for future drug development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalUnknown Journal
StatePublished - Feb 11 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics(all)

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