Lovastatin is an inhibitor of 3-hydroxy-3methylglutaryl-coenzyme A reductase (HMG-CoA reductase), an enzyme which catalyzes the conversion of HMG-CoA to mevalonate. Mevalonate is a required building block for cholesterol biosynthesis and lovastatin interferes with its production by acting as a reversible competitive inhibitor for HMG-CoA which binds to the HMG-CoA reductase. Lovastatin, being inactive in the native form, the form in which it is administered,is hydrolysed to the β-hydroxy acid form in the body and it is this form which is active.
It is now generally accepted that a major risk factor for the development of coronary heart disease is an elevated concentration of plasma cholesterol, especially (LDL) cholesterol. The objective is to decrease excess levels of cholesterol to an amount consistent with maintenance of normal body function. Cholesterol is biosynthesized in a series of more than 25 separate enzymatic reactions that initially involves 3 successive condensations of acetyl-CoA units to form a 6-carbon compound, 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl coenzyme A (HMG CoA). This is reduced to mevalonate and then converted in a series of reactions to the isoprenes that are building blocks of squalene, the immediate precursor to sterols, which cyclizes to lanosterol (a methylated sterol) and further metabolized to cholesterol. A number of early attempts to block the synthesis of cholesterol resulted in agents that inhibited late in the biosynthetic pathway between lanosterol and cholesterol. A major rate limiting step in the pathway is at the level of the microsomal enzyme which catalyzes the conversion of HMG CoA to mevalonic acid and which has been considered to be a prime target for pharmacologic intervention for several years.
The more potent inhibitors of sterol synthesis, lovastatin, and simvastatin, were able to inhibit the proliferation of these cells during 3 days of incubation with drug concentrations of 1 μM for lovastatin and 0.1 μM or 1 μM for simvastatin.
The biosynthesis of lovastatin is coordinated by two iterative type I polyketide syntheses and numerous accessory enzymes. Nonketide, the intermediate biosynthetic precursor of lovastatin, is assembled by the upstream megasynthase LovB (also known as lovastatin nonaketide synthase), enoylreductase LovC, and CYP450 oxygenases. The five carbon unit side chain is synthesized by LovF (also known as lovastatin diketide synthase) through a single condensation diketide undergoes methylation and reductive tailoring by the individual LovF catalytic domains to yield an α-S-methylbutyryl thioester covalently attached to the phosphopantetheine arm on the acyl carrier protein (ACP) domain of LovF. Encoded in the gene cluster is a 46kDa protein, LovD, which was initially identified as an esterase homolog. LovD was suggested to catalyze the last step of lovastatin biosynthesis that regioselectively transacylates the acyl group from LovF to the C8 hydroxyl group of the Nonaketide to yield lovastatin.
Lovastatin is the first specific inhibitor of HMG CoA reductase to receive approval for the treatment of hypercholesterolemia. The first breakthrough in efforts to find a potent, specific, competitive inhibitor of HMG CoA reductase occurred in 1976 when Endo et al. reported discovery of , a highly functionalized fungal metabolite, isolated from cultures of Penicillium citrium. Mevastatin was demonstrated to be an unusually potent inhibitor of the target enzyme and of cholesterol biosynthesis. Subsequent to the first reports describing mevastatin, efforts were initiated to search for other naturally occurring inhibitors of HMG CoA reductase. This led to the discovery of a novel fungal metabolite – lovastatin. The structure of lovastatin was determined to be different from that of mevastatin by the presence of a six alphamethyl group in the hexahydronaphthalene ring.