Statins, commonly used to lower cholesterol levels, have been found to adversely affect patients’ brain functions, claim researchers.
Lead researcher Yeon-Kyun Shin, a biophysics professor at Iowa State University has shown that drugs that inhibit the liver from making cholesterol may also keep the brain from making cholesterol, which is vital to efficient brain function.
"If you deprive cholesterol from the brain, then you directly affect the machinery that triggers the release of neurotransmitters," said Shin.
"Neurotransmitters affect the data-processing and memory functions. In other words -- how smart you are and how well you remember things,” he added.
Cholesterol-reducing statin drugs keep the liver from synthesizing cholesterol so less of the substance is carried to the cells. This lowers bad cholesterol, but this function may also harm cognition.
"If you try to lower the cholesterol by taking medicine that is attacking the machinery of cholesterol synthesis in the liver, that medicine goes to the brain too. And then it reduces the synthesis of cholesterol which is necessary in the brain," said Shin.
During the study, Shin tested the activity of the neurotransmitter-release machinery from brain cells without cholesterol present and measured how well the machinery functioned.
He also included cholesterol in the system and again measured the protein function. Cholesterol increased protein function by five times.
"Our study shows there is a direct link between cholesterol and the neurotransmitter release," said Shin.
"And we know exactly the molecular mechanics of what happens in the cells. Cholesterol changes the shape of the protein to stimulate thinking and memory," he added.
The study appears in journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.