Apolipoprotein E (apoE) mediates the hepatic clearance of plasma lipoproteins, facilitates cholesterol efflux from macrophages and aids neuronal lipid transport. ApoE is expressed at high levels in hepatocytes, macrophages and astrocytes. In the present study, we identify nuclear and cytosolic pools of apoE in human fibroblasts. Fibroblast apoE mRNA and protein levels were up-regulated during staurosporine-induced apoptosis and this was correlated with increased caspase-3 activity and apoptotic morphological alterations. Because the transcription of apoE and specific pro-apoptotic genes is regulated by the nuclear receptor LXR (liver X receptor) α, we analysed LXRα mRNA expression by quantitative real-time PCR and found it to be increased before apoE mRNA induction. The expression of ABCA1 (ATP-binding cassette transporter A1) mRNA, which is also regulated by LXRα, was increased in parallel with apoE mRNA, indicating that LXRα probably promotes apoE and ABCA1 transcription during apoptosis. Fibroblast apoE levels were increased under conditions of serum-starvation-induced growth arrest and hyperoxia-induced senescence. In both cases, an increased nuclear apoE level was observed, particularly in cells that accumulated lipofuscin. Nuclear apoE was translocated to the cytosol when mitotic nuclear disassembly occurred and this was associated with an increase in total cellular apoE levels. ApoE amino acid sequence analysis indicated several potential sites for phosphorylation. In vivo studies, using 32P-labelling and immunoprecipitation, revealed that fibroblast apoE can be phosphorylated. These studies reveal novel associations and potential roles for apoE in fundamental cellular processes.

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