Regulation of lipid droplet cholesterol efflux from macrophage foam cells

Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 2012 Mar;32(3):575-81. doi: 10.1161/ATVBAHA.111.240705. Epub 2011 Dec 29.


Cholesterol efflux from macrophages is the first and potentially most important step in reverse cholesterol transport, a process especially relevant to atherosclerosis and to the regression of atherosclerotic plaques. Increasingly, lipid droplet (LD) cholesteryl ester (CE) hydrolysis is being recognized as a rate-limiting step in cholesterol efflux. The traditional view on macrophage CE hydrolysis is that this pathway is entirely dependent on the action of neutral hydrolases, and numerous candidate CE hydrolases have been proposed to play a role in lipid hydrolysis in macrophages and atherogenesis. Although the exact identity of macrophage-specific CE hydrolases remains to be clarified, a common point to all of these studies is that enhancing LD-associated CE hydrolysis increases cholesterol efflux and is antiatherogenic. Understanding how cholesterol is mobilized from LDs offers new steps for modulating cholesterol efflux, and recently a role for autophagy and lysosomal acid lipase in macrophage lipolysis has emerged. Autophagy and lysosomal acid lipase thus represent novel therapeutic targets to enhance macrophage reverse cholesterol transport. This review discusses our current understanding of the relationship between macrophage LDs and atherosclerosis and presents recent insights into the mechanisms for LD CE hydrolysis in macrophage foam cells.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Atherosclerosis / metabolism*
  • Atherosclerosis / pathology
  • Autophagy
  • Biological Transport
  • Cholesterol / metabolism*
  • Cholesterol Esters / metabolism
  • Foam Cells / metabolism*
  • Foam Cells / pathology
  • Humans
  • Hydrolysis
  • Lipolysis
  • Sterol Esterase / metabolism


  • Cholesterol Esters
  • Cholesterol
  • Sterol Esterase