Lysosomal cholesterol accumulation in aged astrocytes impairs cholesterol delivery to neurons and can be rescued by cannabinoids

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“Cholesterol is crucial for the proper functioning of eukaryotic cells, especially neurons, which rely on cholesterol to maintain their complex structure and facilitate synaptic transmission. However, brain cells are isolated from peripheral cholesterol by the blood-brain barrier and mature neurons primarily uptake the cholesterol synthesized by astrocytes for proper function.

This study aimed to investigate the effect of aging on cholesterol trafficking in astrocytes and its delivery to neurons. We found that aged astrocytes accumulated high levels of cholesterol in the lysosomal compartment, and this cholesterol buildup can be attributed to the simultaneous occurrence of two events: decreased levels of the ABCA1 transporter, which impairs ApoE-cholesterol export from astrocytes, and reduced expression of NPC1, which hinders cholesterol release from lysosomes. We show that these two events are accompanied by increased microR-33 in aged astrocytes, which targets ABCA1 and NPC1. In addition, we demonstrate that the microR-33 increase is triggered by oxidative stress, one of the hallmarks of aging. By coculture experiments, we show that cholesterol accumulation in astrocytes impairs the cholesterol delivery from astrocytes to neurons.

Remarkably, we found that this altered transport of cholesterol could be alleviated through treatment with endocannabinoids as well as cannabidiol or CBD. Finally, according to data demonstrating that aged astrocytes develop an A1 phenotype, we found that cholesterol buildup is also observed in reactive C3+ astrocytes.

Given that reduced neuronal cholesterol affects synaptic plasticity, the ability of cannabinoids to restore cholesterol transport from aged astrocytes to neurons holds significant implications in aging and inflammation.”

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