Lovastatin, a potent competitive inhibitor of 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl-CoA (HMG-CoA) reductase activity, was used to study the regulation of cholesterol metabolism and the basolateral-membrane secretion of triacylglycerol and cholesterol in the human intestinal cell line CaCo-2. At 0.1 microgram/ml, lovastatin decreased 3H2O incorporation into cholesterol by 71%. In membranes prepared from cells incubated with lovastatin for 18 h, HMG-CoA reductase activity was induced 4-8-fold. Mevalonolactone prevented this induction. In intact cells, lovastatin (10 micrograms/ml) decreased cholesterol esterification by 50%. The reductase inhibitor decreased membrane acyl-CoA:cholesterol O-acyltransferase (ACAT) activity by 50% at 5 micrograms/ml. ACAT inhibition by lavastatin was not reversed by adding excess of cholesterol or fatty acyl-CoA to the assay. Lovastatin, in the presence or absence of mevalonolactone, decreased the basolateral secretion of newly synthesized cholesteryl esters and triacylglycerols. Lovastatin also inhibited the esterification of absorbed cholesterol and the secretion of this newly synthesized cholesteryl ester. Lovastatin is a potent inhibitor of cholesterol synthesis in CaCo-2 cells. Moreover, it is a direct inhibitor of ACAT activity, independently of its effect on HMG-CoA reductase and cholesterol synthesis.

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