Oxidation of cholesterol leads to quite dramatic changes in cell membrane properties. Oxysterols play a crucial role in numerous biological processes.

The main biological cause of oxysterols is the oxidation of cholesterol. They differ from cholesterol by the presence of additional polar groups that are typically hydroxyl, keto, hydroperoxy, epoxy, or carboxyl moieties. Under typical conditions, oxysterol concentration is maintained at a very low and precisely regulated level, with an excess of cholesterol. Like cholesterol, many oxysterols are hydrophobic and hence confined to cell membranes. However, small chemical differences between the sterols can significantly affect how they interact with other membrane components, and this in turn can have a substantial effect on membrane properties. In this spirit, this review describes the biological importance and the roles of oxysterols in the human body. We focus primarily on the effect of oxysterols on lipid membranes, but we also consider other issues such as enzymatic and nonenzymatic synthesis processes of oxysterols as well as pathological conditions induced by oxysterols.

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