CYP27A1 (sterol 27-hydroxylase) catalyses an important sterol elimination pathway in the human macrophage, and consequently may protect against atherosclerosis. We studied the expression and regulation of CYP27A1 in a human macrophage-like cell-line, THP-1, and primary HMDMs (human monocyte-derived macrophages). In both macrophage cell types, we found that CYP27A1 expression is independent of cellular cholesterol levels and of LXR (liver X receptor)-dependent control of transcription. However, the RXR (retinoid X receptor) ligand, 9-cis-retinoic acid, upregulates CYP27A1 expression. Of the RXR heterodimeric partners tested, PPAR (peroxisome-proliferator-activated receptor) γ ligands significantly increased CYP27A1 mRNA levels. Its reversal by a PPARγ antagonist demonstrated the specificity of this effect. Interestingly, HMDMs express markedly higher levels of CYP27A1 than THP-1 macrophages, and this difference was reflected in both protein levels and enzyme activities between the two cell types. In conclusion, stimulation of CYP27A1 by PPARγ may represent a key previously unrecognized mechanism by which PPARγ protects against atherosclerosis.

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