Statins, Bcl-2, and apoptosis: Cell death or cell protection?

W. Gibson Wood, Urule Igbavboa, Walter E. Muller, Gunter P. Eckert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

77 Scopus citations


Statins have proven their effectiveness in the treatment of cardiovascular disease. This class of drugs has also attracted attention as a potential treatment for dissimilar diseases such as certain types of cancers and neurodegenerative diseases. What appears to be a contradiction is that, in the case of cancer, it has been suggested that statins increase apoptosis and alter levels of Bcl-2 family members (e.g., reduce Bcl-2 and increase Bax), whereas studies mainly using noncancerous cells report opposite effects. This review examined studies reporting on the effects of statins on Bcl-2 family members, apoptosis, cell death, and cell protection. Much, but not all, of the evidence supporting the pro-apoptotic effects of statins is based on data in cancer cell lines and the use of relatively high drug concentrations. Studies indicating an anti-apoptotic effect of statins are fewer in number and generally used much lower drug concentrations and normal cells. Those conclusions are not definitive, and certainly, there is a need for additional research to determine if statin repositioning is justified for noncardiovascular diseases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)308-314
Number of pages7
JournalMolecular neurobiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments This work was supported in part by grants from the National Institutes of Health (AG-23524 and AG-18357) and the Department of Veterans Affairs.


  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Apoptosis
  • Bcl-2
  • Cancer
  • Cholesterol
  • Isoprenoids
  • Neurodegeneration
  • Neuroprotection
  • Statins


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