Statins as a newly recognized type of immunomodulator

Nat Med. 2000 Dec;6(12):1399-402. doi: 10.1038/82219.


Inhibitors of 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl coenzyme A (HMG-CoA) reductase, or statins, are effective lipid-lowering agents, extensively used in medical practice. Statins have never been shown to be involved in the immune response, although a report has indicated a better outcome of cardiac transplantation in patients under Pravastatin therapy. Major histocompatibility complex class II (MHC-II) molecules are directly involved in the activation of T lymphocytes and in the control of the immune response. Whereas only a limited number of specialized cell types express MHC-II constitutively, numerous other cells become MHC-II positive upon induction by interferon gamma (IFN-gamma). This complex regulation is under the control of the transactivator CIITA (refs 6,7). Here we show that statins act as direct inhibitors of induction of MHC-II expression by IFN-gamma and thus as repressors of MHC-II-mediated T-cell activation. This effect of statins is due to inhibition of the inducible promoter IV of the transactivator CIITA and is observed in several cell types, including primary human endothelial cells (ECs) and monocyte-macrophages (Mstraight phi). It is of note that this inhibition is specific for inducible MHC-II expression and does not concern constitutive expression of CIITA and MHC-II. In repressing induction of MHC-II, and subsequent T-lymphocyte activation, statins therefore provide a new type of immunomodulation. This unexpected effect provides a scientific rationale for using statins as immunosuppressors, not only in organ transplantation but in numerous other pathologies as well.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / pharmacology*
  • Anticholesteremic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Atorvastatin
  • Endothelium, Vascular / cytology
  • Genes, MHC Class II*
  • Heptanoic Acids / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA Reductase Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Interferon-gamma / pharmacology
  • Lovastatin / pharmacology
  • Lymphocyte Activation
  • Macrophages / cytology
  • Monocytes / cytology
  • Nuclear Proteins*
  • Pravastatin / pharmacology
  • Pyrroles / pharmacology
  • Saphenous Vein / cytology
  • T-Lymphocytes
  • Trans-Activators / genetics*


  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Anticholesteremic Agents
  • Heptanoic Acids
  • Hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA Reductase Inhibitors
  • MHC class II transactivator protein
  • Nuclear Proteins
  • Pyrroles
  • Trans-Activators
  • Interferon-gamma
  • Lovastatin
  • Atorvastatin
  • Pravastatin