Beyond the Foam Cell: The Role of LXRs in Preventing Atherogenesis

Int J Mol Sci. 2018 Aug 7;19(8):2307. doi: 10.3390/ijms19082307.


Atherosclerosis is a chronic condition associated with cardiovascular disease. While largely identified by the accumulation of lipid-laden foam cells within the aorta later on in life, atherosclerosis develops over several stages and decades. During atherogenesis, various cell types of the aorta acquire a pro-inflammatory phenotype that initiates the cascade of signaling events facilitating the formation of these foam cells. The liver X receptors (LXRs) are nuclear receptors that upon activation induce the expression of transporters responsible for promoting cholesterol efflux. In addition to promoting cholesterol removal from the arterial wall, LXRs have potent anti-inflammatory actions via the transcriptional repression of key pro-inflammatory cytokines. These beneficial functions sparked an interest in the potential to target LXRs and the development of agonists as anti-atherogenic agents. These early studies focused on mediating the contributions of macrophages to the underlying pathogenesis. However, further evidence has since demonstrated that LXRs reduce atherosclerosis through their actions in multiple cell types apart from those monocytes/macrophages that infiltrate the lesion. LXRs and their target genes have profound effects on multiple other cells types of the hematopoietic system. Furthermore, LXRs can also mediate dysfunction within vascular cell types of the aorta including endothelial and smooth muscle cells. Taken together, these studies demonstrate the whole-body benefits of LXR activation with respect to anti-atherogenesis, and that LXRs remain a viable target for the treatment of atherosclerosis, with a reach which extends beyond plaque macrophages.

Keywords: atherosclerosis; cholesterol efflux; endothelial cells; hematopoiesis; hematopoietic stem cells; inflammation; liver X receptors; macrophage; neutrophils; smooth muscle cells.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Atherosclerosis / metabolism
  • Atherosclerosis / pathology*
  • Cholesterol / metabolism
  • Foam Cells / metabolism
  • Foam Cells / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Liver X Receptors / metabolism*
  • Macrophages / metabolism
  • Macrophages / pathology
  • Myocytes, Smooth Muscle / metabolism
  • Myocytes, Smooth Muscle / pathology


  • Liver X Receptors
  • Cholesterol