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Handb Exp Pharmacol. 2015;224:181-206. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-09665-0_4.

Cholesterol efflux and reverse cholesterol transport.

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Department of Pharmacy, University of Parma, Parco Area delle Scienze 27/A, 43124, Parma, Italy.


Both alterations of lipid/lipoprotein metabolism and inflammatory events contribute to the formation of the atherosclerotic plaque, characterized by the accumulation of abnormal amounts of cholesterol and macrophages in the artery wall. Reverse cholesterol transport (RCT) may counteract the pathogenic events leading to the formation and development of atheroma, by promoting the high-density lipoprotein (HDL)-mediated removal of cholesterol from the artery wall. Recent in vivo studies established the inverse relationship between RCT efficiency and atherosclerotic cardiovascular diseases (CVD), thus suggesting that the promotion of this process may represent a novel strategy to reduce atherosclerotic plaque burden and subsequent cardiovascular events. HDL plays a primary role in all stages of RCT: (1) cholesterol efflux, where these lipoproteins remove excess cholesterol from cells; (2) lipoprotein remodeling, where HDL undergo structural modifications with possible impact on their function; and (3) hepatic lipid uptake, where HDL releases cholesterol to the liver, for the final excretion into bile and feces. Although the inverse association between HDL plasma levels and CVD risk has been postulated for years, recently this concept has been challenged by studies reporting that HDL antiatherogenic functions may be independent of their plasma levels. Therefore, assessment of HDL function, evaluated as the capacity to promote cell cholesterol efflux may offer a better prediction of CVD than HDL levels alone. Consistent with this idea, it has been recently demonstrated that the evaluation of serum cholesterol efflux capacity (CEC) is a predictor of atherosclerosis extent in humans.

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