Send to:

Choose Destination
See comment in PubMed Commons below
Prog Lipid Res. 2003 Jan;42(1):37-50.

Squalene epoxidase as hypocholesterolemic drug target revisited.

Author information

  • 1New Drug Discovery Research, Department of Pharmacology, Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd., Plot 20, Sector-18, Udyog Vihar Industrial Area, Gurgaon-122 001, Haryana, India.


Therapeutic success of statins has distinctly established inhibition of de novo hepatic cholesterol synthesis as an effective approach to lower plasma LDL-cholesterol, the major risk factor for atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease. Statins inhibit HMG CoA reductase, a rate limiting enzyme which catalyses conversion of HMG CoA to mevalonic acid. However, in this process statins also inhibit the synthesis of several non-sterols e.g. dolichols and ubiquinone, which are implicated in side effects observed with statins. This prompted many major pharmaceutical companies in 1990s to target selective cholesterol synthesis beyond farnesyl pyrophosphate. The enzymes squalene synthetase, squalene epoxidase and oxidosqualene cyclase were identified as potential targets. Though inhibitors of these enzymes have been developed, till date no compound has been reported to have entered clinical trials. We evaluated the literature to understand merits and demerits of pursuing squalene epoxidase as a target for hypocholesterolemic drug development. Squalene epoxidase catalyses the conversion of squalene to 2,3-oxidosqualene. Although it has been extensively exploited for antifungal drug development, it has received little attention as a target for hypocholesterolemic drug design. This enzyme though recognized in the early 1970s was cloned 25 years later. This enzyme is an attractive step for pharmacotherapeutic intervention as it is the secondary rate limiting enzyme and blocking cholesterol synthesis at this step may result in accumulation of only squalene which is known to be stable and non toxic. Synthesis of several potent, orally bioavailable inhibitors of squalene epoxidase has been reported from Yamonuchi, Pierre Fabre and Banyu pharmaceuticals. Preclinical studies with these inhibitors have clearly demonstrated the potential of squalene epoxidase inhibitors as hypocholesterolemic agents. Hypochloesterolemic therapy is intended for prolonged duration and safety is an important determinant in clinical success. Lack of clinical trials, despite demonstrated preclinical efficacy by oral route, prompted us to evaluate safety concerns with squalene epoxidase inhibitors. In dogs, NB-598, a potent competitive squalene epoxidase inhibitor has been reported to exhibit signs of dermatitis like toxicity which has been attributed by some reviewers to accumulation of squalene in skin cells. Tellurium, a non-competitive inhibitor of squalene epoxidase has been associated with neuropathy in weanling rats. On the other hand, increased plasma levels of squalene in animals and humans (such as occurring subsequent to dietary olive oil or squalene administration) are safe and associated with beneficial effect such as chemoprevention and hypocholesterolemic activity. In our view, high circulating levels of squalene epoxidase inhibitor may be responsible for dermatitis and neuropathy. Competitive inhibition and pharmacokinetic profile minimizing circulating plasma levels (e.g. by hepatic sequestration and high first pass metabolism) could be important determinants in circumventing safety concerns of squalene epoxidase inhibitors. Recently, cholesterol-lowering effect of green tea has been attributed to potent squalene epoxidase inhibition, which can be consumed in much higher doses without toxicological effect. These facts strengthen optimism for developing clinically safe squalene epoxidase inhibitors. Put in perspective squalene epoxidase appears to be undervalued target which merits attention for development of better hypocholesterolemic drugs.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PubMed Commons home

PubMed Commons

How to join PubMed Commons

    Supplemental Content

    Full text links

    Icon for Elsevier Science
    Loading ...
    Write to the Help Desk