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A scavenger that protects the heart
Coronary heart disease is a tale of two forms of plasma cholesterol. In contrast to the well-established effects of “bad” cholesterol (LDL-C), the role of “good” cholesterol (HDL-C) is mysterious. Elevated HDL-C correlates with a lower risk of heart disease, yet drugs that raise HDL-C levels do not reduce risk. Zanoni et al. found that some people with exceptionally high levels of HDL-C carry a rare sequence variant in the gene encoding the major HDL-C receptor, scavenger receptor BI. This variant destroys the receptor's ability to take up HDL-C. Interestingly, people with this variant have a higher risk of heart disease despite having high levels of HDL-C.
Science, this issue p. 1166
Scavenger receptor BI (SR-BI) is the major receptor for high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (HDL-C). In humans, high amounts of HDL-C in plasma are associated with a lower risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). Mice that have depleted Scarb1 (SR-BI knockout mice) have markedly elevated HDL-C levels but, paradoxically, increased atherosclerosis. The impact of SR-BI on HDL metabolism and CHD risk in humans remains unclear. Through targeted sequencing of coding regions of lipid-modifying genes in 328 individuals with extremely high plasma HDL-C levels, we identified a homozygote for a loss-of-function variant, in which leucine replaces proline 376 (P376L), in SCARB1, the gene encoding SR-BI. The P376L variant impairs posttranslational processing of SR-BI and abrogates selective HDL cholesterol uptake in transfected cells, in hepatocyte-like cells derived from induced pluripotent stem cells from the homozygous subject, and in mice. Large population-based studies revealed that subjects who are heterozygous carriers of the P376L variant have significantly increased levels of plasma HDL-C. P376L carriers have a profound HDL-related phenotype and an increased risk of CHD (odds ratio = 1.79, which is statistically significant).