Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) are taken up by both LDL receptor (LDLr)-dependent and -independent pathways. In order to determine the importance of these pathways in the activity of the various enzymes that are important in maintaining the cellular cholesterol level in hepatic cells, we created HepG2 cells expressing lower levels of LDLr. Thus HepG2 cells were transfected with a constitutive expression vector (pRc/CMV) containing a fragment of LDLr cDNA inserted in an antisense manner. Stable transformants were obtained that showed significant reductions of 42, 72 and 85% of LDLr protein levels compared with the control, as demonstrated by immunoblotting and confirmed by the LDL binding assay. The best inactivation was achieved with the construct containing the first 0.7 kb of LDLr cDNA. Incubating the different HepG2 cell subtypes with LDL showed similar association of apolipoprotein B (apo B) or cholesteryl esters from LDL with the cells, indicating that the LDLr deficiency did not significantly affect LDL uptake by the cell. However, apoB degradation was reduced significantly by 71-82% in the most LDLr-deficient HepG2 cells. We also found that 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl-CoA reductase (HMGCoA red) activity is significantly increased by 32-35% in HepG2 cells expressing very low levels of LDLr that also demonstrate a significant decrease of 20% in acyl-CoA:cholesterol acyltransferase (ACAT) activity. However, these effects are moderate compared with those observed when cells were incubated in lipoprotein-depleted medium, where a > 900% increase in HMGCoA red activity and a loss of 60% of ACAT activity was observed. Thus, in HepG2 cells, different levels of LDLr affect LDL-apoB degradation, but have very little effect on LDL association, HMGCoA red and ACAT activities, revealing that LDLr is more important in the clearance of LDL-apoB than in HepG2 cell cholesterol homoeostasis, a role that should be attributable to both LDLr-dependent and -independent pathways.

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