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J Alzheimers Dis. 2013;33(4):891-911. doi: 10.3233/JAD-2012-121585.

Brain cholesterol metabolism, oxysterols, and dementia.

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Department of Epidemiology, Graduate School of Public Health, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA.


Cholesterol metabolism is implicated in the etiology of Alzheimer's disease (AD) and amyloid production in the brain. While brain cholesterol cannot be measured directly in vivo, the oxysterol, 24S-hydroxycholesterol (24-OHC), is the predominant metabolite of brain cholesterol and can be measured in the blood. The aim of this review is to evaluate plasma 24-OHC as a potential biomarker of AD risk and discuss factors related to its levels in the brain and blood. This systematic review examines studies published between 1950 and June 2012 that examined the relationship between plasma 24-OHC, cognition, brain structure, and dementia using the following key words ("24S-hydroxycholesterol" or "24-hydroxycholesterol") and ("Brain" or "Cognitive"). We found a total of 28 studies of plasma 24-OHC and neurodegenerative disease, including a subset of 12 that used dementia as a clinical endpoint. These studies vary in the direction of the observed associations. Results suggest plasma 24-OHC may be higher in the early stages of cognitive impairment and lower in more advanced stages of AD when compared to cognitively normal controls. Measures of 24-OHC in the blood may be an important potential marker for cholesterol metabolism in the brain and risk of AD. Further studies of plasma 24-OHC and dementia must account for the stage of disease, establish the temporal trends in oxysterol concentrations, and employ neuroimaging modalities to assess the structural and metabolic changes occurring in the brain prior to the onset of cognitive impairment.

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