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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Psychotropic drugs up-regulate the expression of cholesterol transport proteins including ApoE in cultured human CNS- and liver cells

Audun O Vik-Mo12, Johan Fernø12, Silje Skrede12 and Vidar M Steen12*

Author Affiliations

1 Dr. Einar Martens' Research Group for Biological Psychiatry and Bergen Mental Health Research Center, Department of Clinical Medicine, University of Bergen, Norway

2 Center for Medical Genetics and Molecular Medicine, Haukeland University Hospital, Helse Bergen HF, Norway

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BMC Pharmacology 2009, 9:10  doi:10.1186/1471-2210-9-10

Published: 29 August 2009



Disturbances in lipid homeostasis and myelination have been proposed in the pathophysiology of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. We have previously shown that several antipsychotic and antidepressant drugs increase lipid biosynthesis through activation of the Sterol Regulatory Element-Binding Protein (SREBP) transcription factors, which control the expression of numerous genes involved in fatty acid and cholesterol biosynthesis. The aim of the present proof-of-principle study was to investigate whether such drugs also affect lipid transport and export pathways in cultured human CNS and liver cells.


Quantitative PCR and immunoblotting were used to determine the level of lipid transport genes in human glioblastoma (GaMg) exposed to clozapine, olanzapine, haloperidol or imipramine. The effect of some of these drugs was also investigated in human astrocytoma (CCF-STTG1), neuroblastoma (SH-SY5Y) and hepatocellular carcinoma (HepG2) cells. We found significant transcriptional changes of cholesterol transport genes (ApoE, ABCA1, NPC1, NPC2, NPC1L1), which are predominantly controlled by the Liver X receptor (LXR) transcription factor. The up-regulation was observed after 24 to 48 hours of drug exposure, which is markedly delayed as compared to the drug-induced SREBP-controlled stimulation of lipid biosynthesis seen after 6 hours.


Our data show that stimulation of cellular lipid biosynthesis by amphiphilic psychotropic drugs is followed by a transcriptional activation of cholesterol transport and efflux pathways. Such effects may be relevant for both therapeutic effects and metabolic adverse effects of psychotropic drugs.