To avoid toxic overload of cholesterol in peripheral cells, the reverse cholesterol transport pathway directs excess cholesterol through HDL acceptors to the liver for elimination. In this issue of the JCI, a study by Matsuura et al. reveals new features of this pathway, including the importance of the ATP-binding cassette transporter G1 in macrophages and apoE in cholesteryl efflux from cells to cholesterol ester–rich (CE-rich) HDL2 acceptors (see the related article beginning on page 1435). One proposal for boosting reverse cholesterol transport has been to elevate plasma HDL levels by inhibiting CE transfer protein (CETP), which transfers CE from HDL to lower-density lipoproteins. However, there has been concern that large, CE-rich HDL2 generated by CETP inhibition might impair reverse cholesterol transport. ApoE uniquely facilitates reverse cholesterol transport by allowing CE-rich core expansion in HDL. In lower species, these large HDLs are not atherogenic. Thus, CETP might not be essential for reverse cholesterol transport in humans, raising hope of using a CETP inhibitor to elevate HDL levels.
Robert W. Mahley, Yadong Huang, Karl H. Weisgraber