Suppression of statin effectiveness by copper and zinc in yeast and human cells

Mol Biosyst. 2011 Feb;7(2):533-44. doi: 10.1039/c0mb00166j. Epub 2010 Nov 17.


Lovastatin and other statins inhibit HMG-CoA reductase, which carries out an early step in the sterol biosynthesis pathway. Statins lower cholesterol and are widely prescribed to prevent heart disease, but like many drugs, they can interact with nutritionally acquired metabolites. To probe these interactions, we explored the effect of a diverse library of metabolites on statin effectiveness using a Saccharomyces cerevisiae model. In yeast, treatment with lovastatin results in reduced growth. We combined lovastatin with the library of metabolites, and found that copper and zinc ions impaired the ability of the statin to inhibit yeast growth. Using an integrated genomic and metabolomic approach, we found that lovastatin plus metal synergistically upregulated some sterol biosynthesis genes. This altered pattern of gene expression resulted in greater flux through the sterol biosynthesis pathway and an increase in ergosterol levels. Each sterol intermediate level was correlated with expression of the upstream gene. Thus, the ergosterol biosynthetic response induced by statin is enhanced by copper and zinc. In cultured mammalian cells, these metals also rescued statin growth inhibition. Because copper and zinc impair the ability of statin to reduce sterol biosynthesis, dietary intake of these metals could have clinical relevance for statin treatment in humans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Copper / metabolism*
  • Ergosterol / biosynthesis
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA Reductase Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / drug effects*
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / genetics
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / metabolism
  • Zinc / metabolism*


  • Hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA Reductase Inhibitors
  • Copper
  • Zinc
  • Ergosterol