Neurotrophins are important for neuronal health and function. Here, statins, inhibitors of HMG-CoA reductase and cholesterol lowering drugs, were found to stimulate expression of neurotrophins in brain cells independent of the mevalonate pathway. Time-resolved fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) analyses, computer-derived simulation, site-directed mutagenesis, thermal shift assay, and de novo binding followed by electrospray ionization tandem mass spectrometry (ESI-MS) demonstrates that statins serve as ligands of PPARα and that Leu331 and Tyr 334 residues of PPARα are important for statin binding. Upon binding, statins upregulate neurotrophins via PPARα-mediated transcriptional activation of cAMP-response element binding protein (CREB). Accordingly, simvastatin increases CREB and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the hippocampus of Ppara null mice receiving full-length lentiviral PPARα, but not L331M/Y334D statin-binding domain-mutated lentiviral PPARα. This study identifies statins as ligands of PPARα, describes neurotrophic function of statins via the PPARα-CREB pathway, and analyzes the importance of PPARα in the therapeutic success of simvastatin in an animal model of Alzheimer's disease.
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