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J Immunol. 2001 Mar 1;166(5):3369-76.

Hypercholesterolemia exacerbates virus-induced immunopathologic liver disease via suppression of antiviral cytotoxic T cell responses.

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  • 1Institute of Experimental Immunology, Department of Pathology, University Hospital Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.


The immune system has to be optimally balanced to be highly effective against infections with cytopathic microbial pathogens and must guarantee efficient destruction of cells infected with noncytopathic agents while leaving the integrity of noninfected cells largely unaltered. We describe here the effects of genetically induced hypercholesterolemia on cellular immunity in apolipoprotein E (ApoE(-/-)) and low density lipoprotein receptor-deficient (LDLR(-/-)) mice during infection with the hepatotropic lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus WE strain. In both ApoE(-/-) and LDLR(-/-) mice hypercholesterolemia aggravated virus-induced immunopathologic liver disease. ApoE(-/-) mice exhibited a higher susceptibility to virus-induced immunopathology than LDLR(-/-) mice and usually succumbed to immunopathologic disease when infected with high doses of virus. Initial virus spread was not influenced by the hypercholesterolemia, whereas clearance of the virus from spleen and nonlymphoid organs, including liver, was delayed. Activation of antiviral CTL, measured by ex vivo cytotoxicity and IFN-gamma production, and recruitment of specific CTL into blood and liver were impaired in hypercholesterolemic mice, indicating that hypercholesterolemia had a significant suppressive effect on cellular immunity. Taken together, these data provide evidence that hypercholesterolemia suppresses antiviral immune responses, thereby changing the host-virus balance, and can increase susceptibility to acute or chronic and potentially lethal virus-induced immunopathologic disease. These findings impinge on our understanding of hypercholesterolemia as a disease parameter and may explain aspects of the frequent association of persistent pathogens with hypercholesterolemia-induced diseases, such as atherosclerosis.

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