Reverse cholesterol transport (RCT) is a pathway by which accumulated cholesterol is transported from the vessel wall to the liver for excretion, thus preventing atherosclerosis. Major constituents of RCT include acceptors such as high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and apolipoprotein A-I (apoA-I), and enzymes such as lecithin:cholesterol acyltransferase (LCAT), phospholipid transfer protein (PLTP), hepatic lipase (HL) and cholesterol ester transfer protein (CETP). A critical part of RCT is cholesterol efflux, in which accumulated cholesterol is removed from macrophages in the subintima of the vessel wall by ATP-binding membrane cassette transporter A1 (ABCA1) or by other mechanisms, including passive diffusion, scavenger receptor B1 (SR-B1), caveolins and sterol 27-hydroxylase, and collected by HDL and apoA-I. Esterified cholesterol in the HDL is then delivered to the liver for excretion. In patients with mutated ABCA1 genes, RCT and cholesterol efflux are impaired and atherosclerosis is increased. In studies with transgenic mice, disruption of ABCA1 genes can induce atherosclerosis. Levels of HDL are inversely correlated with incidences of cardiovascular disease. Supplementation with HDL or apoA-I can reverse atherosclerosis by accelerating RCT and cholesterol efflux. On the other hand, pro-inflammatory factors such as interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma), endotoxin, tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) and interleukin-1 beta (IL-1beta), can be atherogenic by impairing RCT and cholesterol efflux, according to in vitro studies. RCT and cholesterol efflux play a major role in anti-atherogenesis, and modification of these processes may provide new therapeutic approaches to cardiovascular disease. Further research on new modifying factors for RCT and cholesterol efflux is warranted.
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