Both apolipoprotein E (apoE) and 24(S)-hydroxycholesterol are involved in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer disease (AD). It has been hypothesized that apoE affects AD development via isoform-specific effects on lipid trafficking between astrocytes and neurons. However, the regulation of the cholesterol supply of neurons via apoE-containing high density lipoproteins remains to be clarified. We show for the first time that the brain-specific metabolite of cholesterol produced by neurons, i.e. 24(S)-hydroxycholesterol, induces apoE transcription, protein synthesis, and secretion in a dose- and time-dependent manner in cells of astrocytic but not of neuronal origin. Moreover, 24(S)-hydroxycholesterol primes astrocytoma, but not neuroblastoma cells, to mediate cholesterol efflux to apoE. Similar results were obtained using the synthetic liver X receptor (LXR) agonist GW683965A, suggesting involvement of an LXR-controlled signaling pathway. A 10-20-fold higher basal LXR alpha and -beta expression level in astrocytoma compared with neuroblastoma cells may underlie these differential effects. Furthermore, apoE-mediated cholesterol efflux from astrocytoma cells may be controlled by the ATP binding cassette transporters ABCA1 and ABCG1, since their expression was also up-regulated by both compounds. In contrast, ABCG4 seems not to be involved, because its expression was induced only in neuronal cells. The expression of sterol regulatory element-binding protein (SREBP-2), low density lipoprotein receptor, 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl-CoA reductase, and SREBP-1c was transiently up-regulated by GW683965A in astrocytes but down-regulated by 24(S)-hydroxycholesterol, suggesting that cholesterol efflux and synthesis are regulated independently. In conclusion, evidence is provided that 24(S)-hydroxycholesterol induces apoE-mediated efflux of cholesterol in astrocytes via an LXR-controlled pathway, which may be relevant for chronic and acute neurological diseases.