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Mol Cell Neurosci. 2010 Jan;43(1):33-42. doi: 10.1016/j.mcn.2009.07.013. Epub 2009 Aug 4.

Cholesterol involvement in the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative diseases.

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Molecular Signaling Laboratory, Monash University Central Clinical School, Department of Immunology, AMREP, Commercial Road, Melbourne, Victoria 3004, Australia.


Cholesterol, an essential component of cell membranes, plays an important role in the maintenance of cellular homeostasis and transmembrane communication within and between cellular compartments. In the brain that contains the highest levels of cholesterol in the body, cholesterol traffic occurs between nerve cells and between intracellular organelles in neurons to subserve normal brain function. Whereas glial cells produce the largest quantities of cholesterol, neurons also acquire cholesterol synthesized by astrocytes. The intracellular organelle endosomes and lysosomes receive and distribute cholesterol through the endocytic and retrograde transport pathways. However, deregulated cholesterol trafficking appears to be involved in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer's disease (AD), Parkinson's disease (PD) and Niemann-Pick disease type C (NPC) diseases. Under the pathological conditions of these neurodegenerative diseases, aberrant molecular interactions or particular depositions of cholesterol have been observed as critical causes to precipitate neuronal cell death. Here, we review the recent advances in terms of the role of cholesterol in healthy brain and molecular mechanisms of cholesterol involvement in AD, PD and NPC diseases. We discuss the different lines of evidence supporting different models of anomalous intracellular cholesterol trafficking with emphasis on cholesterol interactions with alpha-synuclein, NPC1 and NPC2 in AD, PD and NPC.

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