Retinol esterification was examined in cultured hepatocytes and stellate cells from the rat. Esterification of [3H]retinol was linear for 2 h in both cell types. By increasing the concentration of retinol in the medium, there was a marked increase in retinol esterification in both cell types. The capacity for esterification of retinol was in the same order of magnitude in the two cell types at 3.5 microM-retinol in the medium. This represents a rate of retinol esterification which far exceeds that required to esterify the amount of retinol absorbed in the intestine. It was demonstrated in particulate homogenates from cultured hepatocytes that the esterification of retinol was dependent on acyl-CoA. Addition of 25-hydroxycholesterol or mevalonolactone promoted an increase in cholesterol esterification, whereas retinol esterification was unaffected, suggesting that cholesterol and retinol are esterified by two different enzymes. Some 80% of vitamin A in cultured hepatocytes is retinyl esters, mostly retinyl palmitate. By adding 87 microM-retinol in the medium the cells accumulated 100-fold free retinol and 2.5-3.0-fold retinyl esters within 1 h. When retinol-loaded cells were incubated without retinol, there was a marked decrease especially in free but also in esterified retinol. In the presence of 1 mM-oleic acid in the medium the amount of retinyl oleate was twice that in control cells.

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