Statin therapy reduces the mycobacterium tuberculosis burden in human macrophages and in mice by enhancing autophagy and phagosome maturation

J Infect Dis. 2014 Mar 1;209(5):754-63. doi: 10.1093/infdis/jit550. Epub 2013 Oct 16.


Background: Statins are cholesterol-lowering drugs, targeting HMG-CoA reductase, thereby reducing the risk of coronary disorders and hypercholesterolemia. However, they also can influence immunologic responses.

Methods: Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) and monocyte-derived macrophages (MDMs) were isolated from patients with familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) during statin therapy. After infection of cells with Mycobacterium tuberculosis, bacterial burden was determined. In vivo, mice were treated with statins before aerosol-based infection with M. tuberculosis and were monitored for disease progression.

Results: PBMCs and MDMs from patients with FH receiving statin therapy were more resistant to M. tuberculosis infection, with reduced bacterial burdens, compared with those of healthy donors. Moreover, statin treatment in experimental murine M. tuberculosis infection studies increased host protection, with reduced lung burdens and improved histopathologic findings. Mechanistically, metabolic rescue experiments demonstrated that statins reduce membrane cholesterol levels, particularly by the mevalonate-isoprenoid arm of the sterol pathway. This promoted phagosomal maturation (EEA-1/Lamp-3) and autophagy (LC3-II), as shown by confocal microscopy and Western blot in macrophages. In addition, inhibitors of phagosome and autophagosome maturation reversed the beneficial effect of statins on bacterial growth.

Conclusion: These results suggest that statin-mediated reduction in cholesterol levels within phagosomal membranes counteract M. tuberculosis-induced inhibition of phagosomal maturation and promote host-induced autophagy, thereby augmenting host protection against tuberculosis.

Keywords: Cholesterol; Human; Macrophages; Mice; Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autophagy / drug effects*
  • Cholesterol / metabolism
  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial / physiology
  • Humans
  • Hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA Reductase Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA Reductase Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / drug effects
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / metabolism
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / microbiology
  • Macrophages / drug effects*
  • Macrophages / microbiology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / drug effects*
  • Phagosomes / drug effects*
  • Phagosomes / metabolism
  • Phagosomes / microbiology
  • Tuberculosis / drug therapy*
  • Tuberculosis / metabolism
  • Tuberculosis / microbiology


  • Hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA Reductase Inhibitors
  • Cholesterol