Practical strategies for modulating foam cell formation and behavior

Elisabeth Uitz, Babak Bahadori, Mark F McCarty, Mohammed H Moghadasian

Research output: Journal article (peer-reviewed)Review article


Although high density lipoprotein (HDL)-mediated reverse cholesterol transport is crucial to the prevention and reversal of atheroma, a recent meta-analysis makes evident that current pharmaceutical strategies for modulating HDL cholesterol levels lower cardiovascular risk only to the extent that they concurrently decrease low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. This corresponds well with findings of a recent Mendelian randomization analysis, in which genetic polymorphisms associated with HDL cholesterol but no other known cardiovascular risk factors failed to predict risk for myocardial infarction. Although it is still seems appropriate to search for therapies that could improve the efficiency with which HDL particles induce reverse cholesterol transport, targeting HDL cholesterol levels per se with current measures appears to be futile. It may therefore be more promising to promote reverse cholesterol transport with agents that directly target foam cells. Macrophage expression of the cholesterol transport proteins adenosine triphosphate binding cassette transporter A1, adenosine triphosphate binding cassette transporter G1, and scavenger receptor class B member 1 is transcriptionally up-regulated by activated liver X receptors (LXR), whereas nuclear factor (NF)-kappaB antagonizes their expression. Taurine, which inhibits atherogenesis in rodent studies, has just been discovered to act as a weak agonist for LXRalpha. Conversely, it may be possible to oppose NF-kappaB activation in macrophages with a range of measures. Induction of heme oxygenase-1, which can be attained with phase 2 inducer phytochemicals such as lipoic acid and green tea catechins, promotes reverse cholesterol transport in macrophages and inhibits atherogenesis in rodents, likely due to, in large part, NF-kappaB antagonism. Inhibition of macrophage nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADPH) oxidase activity with the spirulina-derived bilirubin-mimetic phycocyanobilin may also oppose NF-kappaB activation, and salicylic acid similarly should be useful for this purpose. The 5' adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase activator berberine promotes macrophage reverse cholesterol transport in cell culture; metformin probably shares this property. Many of these measures could also be expected to promote plaque stability by suppressing foam cell production of inflammatory cytokines and matrix metalloproteinases, and to reduce intimal monocyte infiltration by anti-inflammatory effects on vascular endothelium. Direct targeting of foam cells with agents such as phase 2 inducers, spirulina, salicylate, taurine, and berberine or metformin, may hence have considerable potential for preventing and reversing atheroma, and for preventing the plaque rupture that triggers vascular thrombosis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)497-506
Number of pages10
JournalWorld Journal of Clinical Cases
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 16 Oct 2014


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