Oxysterols are 27-carbon atom molecules resulting from autoxidation or enzymatic oxidation of cholesterol. They are present in numerous foodstuffs and have been demonstrated to be present at increased levels in the plasma of patients with cardiovascular diseases and in atherosclerotic lesions. Thus, their role in lipid disorders is widely suspected, and they might also be involved in important degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, osteoporosis, and age-related macular degeneration. Since atherosclerosis is associated with the presence of apoptotic cells and with oxidative and inflammatory processes, the ability of some oxysterols, especially 7-ketocholesterol and 7β-hydroxycholesterol, to trigger cell death, activate inflammation, and modulate lipid homeostasis is being extensively studied, especially in vitro. Thus, since there are a number of essential considerations regarding the physiological/pathophysiological functions and activities of the different oxysterols, it is important to determine their biological activities and identify their signaling pathways, when they are used either alone or as mixtures. Oxysterols may have cytotoxic, oxidative, and/or inflammatory effects, or none whatsoever. Moreover, a substantial accumulation of polar lipids in cytoplasmic multilamellar structures has been observed with cytotoxic oxysterols, suggesting that cytotoxic oxysterols are potent inducers of phospholipidosis. This basic knowledge about oxysterols contributes to a better understanding of the associated pathologies and may lead to new treatments and new drugs. Since oxysterols have a number of biological activities, and as oxysterol-induced cell death is assumed to take part in degenerative pathologies, the present review will focus on the cytotoxic activities of these compounds, the corresponding cell death signaling pathways, and associated events (oxidation, inflammation, and phospholipidosis).
Apoptosis; Atherosclerosis; Inflammation; Oxysterols; Phospholipidosis