Overview for Cholesterol

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Chapter: Biochemistry : Cholesterol, Lipoprotein, and Steroid Metabolism

Cholesterol, the characteristic steroid alcohol of animal tissues, performs a number of essential functions in the body.


OVERVIEW

Cholesterol, the characteristic steroid alcohol of animal tissues, performs a number of essential functions in the body. For example, cholesterol is a structural component of all cell membranes, modulating their fluidity, and, in specialized tissues, cholesterol is a precursor of bile acids, steroid hormones, and vitamin D. It is, therefore, critically important that the cells of the body be assured an appropriate supply of cholesterol. To meet this need, a complex series of transport, biosynthetic, and regulatory mechanisms has evolved. The liver plays a central role in the regulation of the body’s cholesterol homeostasis. For example, cholesterol enters the liver’s cholesterol pool from a number of sources including dietary cholesterol as well as that synthesized de novo by extrahepatic tissues and by the liver itself. Cholesterol is eliminated from the liver as unmodified cholesterol in the bile, or it can be converted to bile salts that are secreted into the intestinal lumen. It can also serve as a component of plasma lipoproteins that carry lipids to the peripheral tissues. In humans, the balance between cholesterol influx and efflux is not precise, resulting in a gradual deposition of cholesterol in the tissues, particularly in the endothelial linings of blood vessels. This is a potentially life-threatening occurrence when the lipid deposition leads to plaque formation, causing the narrowing of blood vessels (atherosclerosis) and increased risk of cardio-, cerebro-, and peripheral vascular disease. Figure 18.1 summarizes the major sources of liver cholesterol and the routes by which cholesterol leaves the liver.


Figure 18.1 Sources of liver cholesterol (influx) and routes by which cholesterol leaves the liver (efflux). HDL = highdensity lipoprotein; VLDL = very-lowdensity lipoprotein.

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