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J Nutr Biochem. 2012 Apr;23(4):400-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2011.01.004. Epub 2011 Jun 11.

Alpha-linolenic acid increases cholesterol efflux in macrophage-derived foam cells by decreasing stearoyl CoA desaturase 1 expression: evidence for a farnesoid-X-receptor mechanism of action.

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Department of Nutritional Sciences, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, USA.


Increased cholesterol efflux from macrophage-derived foam cells (MDFCs) is an important protective mechanism to decrease lipid load in the atherosclerotic plaque. Dietary alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA), decreases circulating cholesterol, but its role in cholesterol efflux has not been extensively studied. Stearoyl CoA desaturase 1 (SCD1) is the rate-limiting enzyme in the synthesis of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs). Endogenous MUFAs are preferentially incorporated into triglycerides, phospholipids and cholesteryl ester, which are abundant in atherosclerotic plaque. This study investigated the mechanisms by which ALA regulated SCD1 and subsequent effect on cholesterol storage and transport in MDFCs. Small interfering RNA (siRNA) also was applied to modify SCD1 expression in foam cells. Alpha-linolenic acid treatment and SCD1 siRNA significantly decreased SCD1 expression in MDFCs. The reduction of SCD1 was accompanied with increased cholesterol efflux and decreased intracellular cholesterol storage within these cells. Alpha-linolenic acid activated the nuclear receptor farnesoid-X-receptor, which in turn increased its target gene small heterodimer partner (SHP) expression, and decreased liver-X-receptor dependent sterol regulatory element binding protein 1c transcription, ultimately resulting in repressed SCD1 expression. In conclusion, repression of SCD1 by ALA favorably increased cholesterol efflux and decreased cholesterol accumulation in foam cells. This may be one mechanism by which dietary omega-3 PUFAs promote atherosclerosis regression.

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