The effects of 24(S),25-epoxycholesterol (24,25EC) on aspects of cholesterol homeostasis is well-documented. When added to cells, 24,25EC decreases cholesterol synthesis and up-regulates cholesterol efflux genes, including ABCA1. Synthesis of 24,25EC occurs in a shunt of the mevalonate pathway which also produces cholesterol. Therefore, 24,25EC synthesis should be subject to the same negative feedback regulation as cholesterol synthesis. To date, no role has been ascribed to 24,25EC in light of the fact that increased accumulation of cholesterol should decrease formation of this oxysterol through feedback inhibition. This leads to the intriguing paradox: why inhibit production of an apparently important regulator of cholesterol homeostasis when it is needed most? We used a combination of pharmacological and genetic approaches in Chinese Hamster Ovary cell-lines to investigate this paradox. Endogenous synthesis of 24,25EC was manipulated using partial inhibition of the enzyme, Oxidosqualene Cyclase. Changes in cholesterol and 24,25EC synthesis were determined using metabolic labelling with [1-14C]-acetate, thin-layer chromatography and phosphorimaging. Transcriptional effects mediated via SREBP and LXR were analysed by luciferase reporter assays. We showed that cholesterol addition to cells lead to a rapid and preferential inhibition of 24,25EC synthesis. Addition of 24,25EC resulted in parallel inhibition of 24,25EC and cholesterol synthesis. Furthermore, we used a variety of approaches to examine the relationship between cholesterol and 24,25EC synthesis, including cell-lines with different rates of cholesterol synthesis, varying cholesterol synthetic rates by pre-treatment with a statin, or lipoprotein cholesterol loading of macrophages. In all cases, we showed that 24,25EC synthesis faithfully tracked cholesterol synthesis. Moreover, changes in 24,25EC synthesis exerted downstream effects, reducing SREBP transcriptional activity whilst increasing ABCA1 and LXR transcriptional activity. Our results show that 24,25EC synthesis parallels cholesterol synthesis, consistent with this oxysterol functioning as a safety valve to protect against the accumulation of newly-synthesised cholesterol (as opposed to exogenously-derived cholesterol). Considering that 24,25EC is capable of being produced in all cholesterogenic cells, we propose that production of 24,25EC may represent a ubiquitous defence mechanism.
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