Amyloid beta-protein interactions with membranes and cholesterol: causes or casualties of Alzheimer's disease

Biochim Biophys Acta. 2003 Mar 10;1610(2):281-90. doi: 10.1016/s0005-2736(03)00025-7.


Amyloid beta-protein (Abeta) is thought to be one of the primary factors causing neurodegeneration in Alzheimer's disease (AD). This protein is an amphipathic molecule that perturbs membranes, binds lipids and alters cell function. Several studies have reported that Abeta alters membrane fluidity but the direction of this effect has not been consistently observed and explanations for this lack of consistency are proposed. Cholesterol is a key component of membranes and cholesterol interacts with Abeta in a reciprocal manner. Abeta impacts on cholesterol homeostasis and modification of cholesterol levels alters Abeta expression. In addition, certain cholesterol lowering drugs (statins) appear to reduce the risk of AD in human subjects. However, the role of changes in the total amount of brain cholesterol in AD and the mechanisms of action of statins in lowering the risk of AD are unclear. Here we discuss data on membranes, cholesterol, Abeta and AD, and propose that modification of the transbilayer distribution of cholesterol in contrast to a change in the total amount of cholesterol provides a cooperative environment for Abeta synthesis and accumulation in membranes leading to cell dysfunction including disruption in cholesterol homeostasis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / etiology
  • Alzheimer Disease / metabolism*
  • Amyloid beta-Peptides / biosynthesis
  • Amyloid beta-Peptides / chemistry
  • Amyloid beta-Peptides / metabolism*
  • Amyloid beta-Protein Precursor / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Brain Chemistry*
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Cholesterol / chemistry
  • Cholesterol / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Lipid Bilayers / metabolism
  • Membrane Fluidity


  • Amyloid beta-Peptides
  • Amyloid beta-Protein Precursor
  • Lipid Bilayers
  • Cholesterol