The mevalonate pathway in neurons: It's not just about cholesterol

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Abstract

Cholesterol homeostasis greatly impacts neuronal function due to the essential role of this sterol in the brain. The mevalonate (MVA) pathway leads to the synthesis of cholesterol, but also supplies cells with many other intermediary molecules crucial for neuronal function. Compelling evidence point to a model in which neurons shutdown cholesterol synthesis, and rely on a shuttle derived from astrocytes to meet their cholesterol needs. Nevertheless, several reports suggest that neurons maintain the MVA pathway active, even with sustained cholesterol supply by astrocytes. Hence, in this review we focus not on cholesterol production, but rather on the role of the MVA pathway in the synthesis of particular intermediaries, namely isoprenoids, and on their role on neuronal function. Isoprenoids act as anchors for membrane association, after being covalently bound to proteins, such as most of the small guanosine triphosphate-binding proteins, which are critical to neuronal cell function. Based on literature, on our own results, and on the analysis of public transcriptomics databases, we raise the idea that in neurons there is a shift of the MVA pathway towards the non-sterol branch, responsible for isoprenoid synthesis, in detriment to post-squalene branch, and that this is ultimately essential for synaptic activity. Nevertheless new tools that facilitate imaging and the biochemical characterization and quantification of the prenylome in neurons and astrocytes are needed to understand the regulation of isoprenoid production and protein prenylation in the brain, and to analyze its differences on diverse physiological or pathological conditions, such as aging and neurodegenerative states.

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