Cholesterol is a fat molecule that causes heart attacks and strokes when it accumulates in arteries in excessive amounts. According to Eric Nelson, Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, NC, USA, and colleagues, the detrimental role of this lipid is not limited to the cardiovascular system.
The researchers demonstrated that cholesterol metabolites sustain the growth of hormone-dependent breast cancer cells. On the surface of these cells are receptors for estrogens, female steroid hormones, and the proliferation of these cancer cells depends on the signals delivered by these molecules. When estrogens are not available, however, breast cancer cells convert cholesterol into 27-hydroxycholesterol (27HC), a metabolite that mimics estrogens, thereby driving tumoral growth.
These findings explain the reason why elevated blood cholesterol levels are associated with a high risk of developing breast cancer, thus suggesting that cholesterol-lowering drugs, such as statins or compounds inhibiting cholesterol conversion into 27HC, may help to prevent or treat breast cancers.
- 27-Hydroxycholesterol Links Hypercholesterolemia and Breast Cancer Pathophysiology,
E. R. Nelson, S. E. Wardell, J. S. Jasper, S. Park, S. Suchindran, M. K. Howe, N. J. Carver, R. V. Pillai, P. M. Sullivan, V. Sondhi, M. Umetani, J. Geradts, D. P. McDonnell,
Science 2013, 342, 1094–1098.