Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type






First Advisor

Dr. Nada Porter


The role cholesterol plays in the brain has long been underappreciated even though the brain contains a disproportionately high percentage of body cholesterol. Recent studies have found a link between the dysregulation of lipid metabolism and the risk of acquiring Alzheimer’s disease (AD) as well as a predisposition to cognitive decline. The goal of these studies was to elucidate the possible role lipid metabolism plays in pathological and normal brain aging by pharmacologically manipulating lipid metabolism and determining effects on key hippocampal biomarkers of AD and age-related cognitive decline. One series of experiments used an agonist (TO901317) to the liver X receptor (LXR) in two transgenic AD mouse models. Chronic LXR activation reduced AD associated pathology and improved cognitive performance in AD mouse models. However, long-term potentiation (LTP) was not enhanced and peripheral side effects were observed. In another series of experiments the effects of chronically inhibiting cholesterol synthesis on cognitive aging in rats was determined. Animals were treated with either of two commonly prescribed statins, simvastatin or atorvastatin. Simvastatin, the more lipophilic statin, increased LTP and reduced the duration of the afterhyperpolarization (AHP). In addition, simvastatin upregulated key genes of the cholesterol synthesis pathway in the hippocampus as revealed by microarray analyses, but was associated with impaired performance in the Morris Water Maze, a hippocampal dependent task. Atorvastatin, a less lipophilic statin, reduced the AHP, but did not affect LTP or cognitive performance. Atorvastatin modulated a very different set of genes and reduced brain cholesterol more than simvastatin. These results suggest that manipulation of cholesterol metabolism selectively modulates key aspects of AD and brain aging.

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