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Neurological Review
Nov 2011

Cholesterol Level and Statin Use in Alzheimer Disease: II. Review of Human Trials and Recommendations

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Center for Neurologic Diseases, Department of Neurology, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School (Ms Shepardson and Drs Shankar and Selkoe), and Department of Neurological Surgery, Massachusetts General Hospital (Dr Shankar), Boston, Massachusetts.

Arch Neurol. 2011;68(11):1385-1392. doi:10.1001/archneurol.2011.242

Substantial evidence has accumulated in support of the hypothesis that elevated cholesterol levels increase the risk of developing Alzheimer disease (AD). As a result, much work has investigated the potential use of lipid-lowering agents, particularly statins, as preventive or therapeutic agents for AD. Although epidemiology and preclinical statin research (described in part I of this review) have generally supported an adverse role of high cholesterol levels regarding AD, human studies of statins (reviewed herein) show highly variable outcomes, making it difficult to draw firm conclusions. We identify several confounding factors among the human studies, including differing blood-brain barrier permeabilities among statins, the stage in AD at which statins were administered, and the drugs' pleiotropic metabolic effects, all of which contribute to the substantial variability observed to date. We recommend that future human studies of this important therapeutic topic (1) take the blood-brain barrier permeabilities of statins into account when analyzing results, (2) include specific analyses of the effects on low- and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and, most important, (3) conduct statin treatment trials solely in patients with mild AD, who have the best chance for disease modification.