The ratio of serum plant sterols to cholesterol is positively correlated with the fractional cholesterol absorption, whereas serum precursors of cholesterol synthesis are positively correlated with cholesterol synthesis. Recently, two ABC (ATP-binding cassette) transporters, ABCG5 and ABCG8, have been described as playing an important role in the absorption and excretion of sterols. In the present study, we tested the hypothesis that genetic variation in ABCG5/ABCG8 influences the levels of serum plant sterol (sitosterol) and cholesterol precursor (lathosterol) in Japanese primary hypercholesterolaemic patients (n=100). We identified a novel mutation [859T/C (C287R)] and a novel polymorphism [1285A/G (M429V)] at the ABCG5/ABCG8 loci, as well as four polymorphisms reported previously [1810C/G (Q604E), 161G/A (C54Y), 1199C/A (T400K) and 1895C/T (A632V)]. In carriers of the novel M429V variant, the serum level of sitosterol and the sitosterol/cholesterol ratio were significantly higher than those in non-carriers (3.64 compared with 2.56 μg/ml, and 1.45 μg/mg compared with 1.00 μg/mg respectively; P<0.01 for both), and serum lathosterol tended to be lower (1.95 μg/ml compared with 3.03 μg/ml; P=0.08), whereas no significant difference was observed in other lipid profiles. These four polymorphisms (1810C/G, 161G/A, 1199C/A and 1285A/G) generated six haplotypes, and the C/G/C/G haplotype was significantly associated with a higher sitosterol level and sitosterol/cholesterol ratio compared with the other five haplotypes (P<0.05 for both). We conclude that, in 8% of patients with hypercholesterolaemia, the novel ABCG8 M429V variant was associated with higher cholesterol absorption efficiency. Future studies should investigate whether these findings have implications for the optimal cholesterol-lowering drug treatment in hypercholesterolaemic patients.

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