Desmosterol suppresses macrophage inflammasome activation and protects against vascular inflammation and atherosclerosis

Xinbo Zhang, Jeffrey G. McDonald, Binod Aryal, Alberto Canfran-Duque, Emily L. Goldberg, Elisa Araldi, Wen Ding, Yuhua Fan, Bonne M. Thompson, Abhishek K. Singh, Qian Li, George Tellides, Jose Ordovas-Montanes, Rolando Garcia Milian, Vishwa Deep Dixit, Elina Ikonen, Yajaira Suarez, Carlos Fernandez-Hernando

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Cholesterol biosynthetic intermediates, such as lanosterol and desmosterol, are emergent immune regulators of macrophages in response to inflammatory stimuli or lipid overloading, respectively. However, the participation of these sterols in regulating macrophage functions in the physiological context of atherosclerosis, an inflammatory disease driven by the accumulation of cholesterol-laden macrophages in the artery wall, has remained elusive. Here, we report that desmosterol, the most abundant cholesterol biosynthetic intermediate in human coronary artery lesions, plays an essential role during atherogenesis, serving as a key molecule integrating cholesterol homeostasis and immune responses in macrophages. Depletion of desmosterol in myeloid cells by overexpression of 3β-hydroxysterol Δ24-reductase (DHCR24), the enzyme that catalyzes conversion of desmosterol to cholesterol, promotes the progression of atherosclerosis. Singlecell transcriptomics in isolated CD45+CD11b+ cells from atherosclerotic plaques demonstrate that depletion of desmosterol increases interferon responses and attenuates the expression of antiinflammatory macrophage markers. Lipidomic and transcriptomic analysis of in vivo macrophage foam cells demonstrate that desmosterol is a major endogenous liver X receptor (LXR) ligand involved in LXR/retinoid X receptor (RXR) activation and thus macrophage foam cell formation. Decreased desmosterol accumulation in mitochondria promotes macrophage mitochondrial reactive oxygen species production and NLR family pyrin domain containing 3 (NLRP3)-dependent inflammasome activation. Deficiency of NLRP3 or apoptosis-associated speck-like protein containing a CARD (ASC) rescues the increased inflammasome activity and atherogenesis observed in desmosterol-depleted macrophages. Altogether, these findings underscore the critical function of desmosterol in the atherosclerotic plaque to dampen inflammation by integrating with macrophage cholesterol metabolism and inflammatory activation and protecting from disease progression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2107682118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number47
StatePublished - Nov 23 2021


  • Atherosclerosis
  • Cholesterol
  • Immunometabolism
  • Macrophages

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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