Faculty Member

27-hydroxycholesterol (27HC) is an abundant cholesterol metabolite in human circulation and promotes breast cancer cell proliferation. Although lung is one of the organs that contain high levels of 27HC, the role of 27HC in lung is unknown. In this study, we found that 27HC promotes lung cancer cell proliferation in an estrogen receptor β (ERβ)-dependent manner. The expression of 27HC-generating enzyme CYP27A1 is higher in lung cancer cells than in normal lung cells. Treatment with 27HC increased cell proliferation in ERβ-positive lung cancer cells, but not in ERα-positive or ER-negative cells. The effect on cell proliferation is specific to 27HC and another oxysterol, 25-hydroxycholesterol that has a similar oxysterol structure with 27HC. Moreover, among ligands for nuclear receptors tested, only estrogen had the proliferative effect, and the effect by 27HC and estrogen was inhibited by ERβ-specific, but not ERα-specific, inhibitors. In addition, the effect by 27HC was not affected by membrane-bound estrogen receptor GPR30. Interestingly, despite the high expression of CYP27A1, endogenously produced 27HC was not the major contributor of the 27HC-induced cell proliferation. Using kinase inhibitors, we found that the effect by 27HC was mediated by the PI3K-Akt signaling pathway. These results suggest that 27HC promotes lung cancer cell proliferation via ERβ and PI3K-Akt signaling. Thus, lowering 27HC levels may lead to a novel approach for the treatment of lung cancer.