Lipid efflux mechanisms, relation to disease and potential therapeutic aspects

Adv Drug Deliv Rev. 2020:159:54-93. doi: 10.1016/j.addr.2020.04.013. Epub 2020 May 11.


Lipids are hydrophobic and amphiphilic molecules involved in diverse functions such as membrane structure, energy metabolism, immunity, and signaling. However, altered intra-cellular lipid levels or composition can lead to metabolic and inflammatory dysfunction, as well as lipotoxicity. Thus, intra-cellular lipid homeostasis is tightly regulated by multiple mechanisms. Since most peripheral cells do not catabolize cholesterol, efflux (extra-cellular transport) of cholesterol is vital for lipid homeostasis. Defective efflux contributes to atherosclerotic plaque development, impaired β-cell insulin secretion, and neuropathology. Of these, defective lipid efflux in macrophages in the arterial walls leading to foam cell and atherosclerotic plaque formation has been the most well studied, likely because a leading global cause of death is cardiovascular disease. Circulating high density lipoprotein particles play critical roles as acceptors of effluxed cellular lipids, suggesting their importance in disease etiology. We review here mechanisms and pathways that modulate lipid efflux, the role of lipid efflux in disease etiology, and therapeutic options aimed at modulating this critical process.

Keywords: Atherosclerosis; Diabetes; High density lipoprotein; Reverse cholesterol transport.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / metabolism*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / therapy
  • Humans
  • Lipid Metabolism*
  • Lipoproteins, HDL / metabolism


  • Lipoproteins, HDL