The contribution of cholesterol and epigenetic changes to the pathophysiology of breast cancer

Maliha T. Munir, Christopher Ponce, Catherine A. Powell, Kaiser Tarafdar, Teruyoshi Yanagita, Mahua Choudhury, Lauren S. Gollahon, Shaikh M. Rahman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Breast cancer​ is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in women. Accumulating evidence suggests that cholesterol plays an important role in the development of breast cancer. Even though the mechanistic link between these two factors is not well understood, one possibility is that dysregulated cholesterol metabolism may affect lipid raft and membrane fluidity and can promote tumor development. Current studies have shown oxysterol 27-hydroxycholesterol (27-HC) as a critical regulator of cholesterol and breast cancer pathogenesis. This is supported by the significantly higher expression of CYP27A1 (cytochrome P450, family 27, subfamily A, polypeptide 1) in breast cancers. This enzyme is responsible for 27-HC synthesis from cholesterol. It has been shown that 27-HC can not only increase the proliferation of estrogen receptor (ER)-positive breast cancer cells but also stimulate tumor growth and metastasis in several breast cancer models. This phenomenon is surprising since 27-HC and other oxysterols generally reduce intracellular cholesterol levels by activating the liver X receptors (LXRs). Resolving this paradox will elucidate molecular pathways by which cholesterol, ER, and LXR are connected to breast cancer. These findings will also provide the rationale for evaluating pharmaceutical approaches that manipulate cholesterol or 27-HC synthesis in order to mitigate the impact of cholesterol on breast cancer pathophysiology. In addition to cholesterol, epigenetic changes including non-coding RNAs, and microRNAs, DNA methylation, and histone modifications, have all been shown to control tumorigenesis. The purpose of this review is to discuss the link between altered cholesterol metabolism and epigenetic modification during breast cancer progression.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
StatePublished - Oct 2018


  • 27-Hydroxycholesterol
  • Breast cancer
  • Cholesterol
  • Epigenetics
  • Estrogen receptor
  • Statins


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