Cholesterol Medicines Fight Infection by Stimulating Germ Killers

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Thirty million Americans taking cholesterol-lowering medications might also be protected from bacterial infections like pneumonia and sepsis. Researchers have discovered how the drugs, known at statins, kill bacteria by stimulating germ killing cells. The findings could mean cholesterol lowering medication have an important role beyond controlling cardiovascular disease risks.

Cholesterol Medicines may Have new Role for Treating Infection

Past studies showing the anti-inflammatory effects of the cholesterol medications suggested the drugs could be useful for lessening the severity of infections. Victor Nizet, MD, professor of pediatrics and pharmacy, and Christopher Glass, MD, PhD, professor of medicine and cellular & molecular medicine, the UC San Diego team found that cholesterol medicines stimulate phagocytes - bacteria fighting cells -to release specialized germ killing proteins and enzymes that entrap bacteria and prevent them from spreading.


"Clinical research indicates that perhaps 100 million Americans have elevated cholesterol levels that could benefit from statin therapy," said Glass. "Thus any statin-associated changes to immune system function are certain to impact millions of people." Statins are one of the most popularly prescribed class of drugs in the world.

The findings show how white blood cells sense cholesterol molecules and spring into action to envelop and prevent bacteria that can cause pneumonia and sepsis from spreading. For the study, mice given cholesterol-lowering drugs were more resistant to “staph” infection and phagocytes isolated from the mice had more power for fighting the infection from trapping of bacteria at a DNA level.

The researchers say more studies are needed to see if cholesterol medications combined with antibiotics could help fight infections that have become increasingly more difficult to treat. The findings show statins do more than just lower cholesterol; they may have an important role for fighting infection through their unique mechanism of trapping bacteria.

Cell Host & Microbe.