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Cell Death Differ. 2012 Mar;19(3):416-27. doi: 10.1038/cdd.2011.105. Epub 2011 Aug 5.

Lanosterol induces mitochondrial uncoupling and protects dopaminergic neurons from cell death in a model for Parkinson's disease.

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Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore, Singapore.


Parkinson's disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disorder marked by the selective degeneration of dopaminergic neurons in the nigrostriatal pathway. Several lines of evidence indicate that mitochondrial dysfunction contributes to its etiology. Other studies have suggested that alterations in sterol homeostasis correlate with increased risk for PD. Whether these observations are functionally related is, however, unknown. In this study, we used a toxin-induced mouse model of PD and measured levels of nine sterol intermediates. We found that lanosterol is significantly (∼50%) and specifically reduced in the nigrostriatal regions of 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine-treated mice, indicative of altered lanosterol metabolism during PD pathogenesis. Remarkably, exogenous addition of lanosterol rescued dopaminergic neurons from 1-methyl-4-phenylpyridinium (MPP+)-induced cell death in culture. Furthermore, we observed a marked redistribution of lanosterol synthase from the endoplasmic reticulum to mitochondria in dopaminergic neurons exposed to MPP+, suggesting that lanosterol might exert its survival effect by regulating mitochondrial function. Consistent with this model, we find that lanosterol induces mild depolarization of mitochondria and promotes autophagy. Collectively, our results highlight a novel sterol-based neuroprotective mechanism with direct relevance to PD.

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