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miR-33 in Cholesterol Control
With the well-established link between serum cholesterol levels and cardiovascular disease and the availability of effective cholesterol-lowering drugs, cholesterol screening has rapidly become a routine part of health care. Yet, much remains to be learned about how cholesterol levels are regulated at the cellular level (see the Perspective by Brown et al.). Now, Najafi-Shoushtari et al. (p. 1566, published online 13 May) and Rayner et al. (p. 1570, published online 13 May) have discovered a new molecular player in cholesterol control—a small noncoding RNA that, intriguingly, is embedded within the genes coding for sterol regulatory element-binding proteins (SREBPs), transcription factors already known to regulate cholesterol levels. This microRNA, called miR-33, represses expression of the adenosine triphosphate–binding cassette transporter A1, a protein that regulates synthesis of high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or “good” cholesterol) and that helps to remove “bad” cholesterol from the blood. Reducing the levels of miR-33 in mice boosted serum HDL levels, suggesting that manipulation of this regulatory circuit might be therapeutically useful.
Cholesterol metabolism is tightly regulated at the cellular level. Here we show that miR-33, an intronic microRNA (miRNA) located within the gene encoding sterol-regulatory element–binding factor–2 (SREBF-2), a transcriptional regulator of cholesterol synthesis, modulates the expression of genes involved in cellular cholesterol transport. In mouse and human cells, miR-33 inhibits the expression of the adenosine triphosphate–binding cassette (ABC) transporter, ABCA1, thereby attenuating cholesterol efflux to apolipoprotein A1. In mouse macrophages, miR-33 also targets ABCG1, reducing cholesterol efflux to nascent high-density lipoprotein (HDL). Lentiviral delivery of miR-33 to mice represses ABCA1 expression in the liver, reducing circulating HDL levels. Conversely, silencing of miR-33 in vivo increases hepatic expression of ABCA1 and plasma HDL levels. Thus, miR-33 appears to regulate both HDL biogenesis in the liver and cellular cholesterol efflux.