We have previously reported a positive correlation between the expression of BHMT (betaine–homocysteine S-methyltransferase) and ApoB (apolipoprotein B) in rat hepatoma McA (McArdle RH-7777) cells [Sowden, Collins, Smith, Garrow, Sparks and Sparks (1999) Biochem. J. 341, 639–645]. To examine whether a similar relationship occurs in vivo, hepatic BHMT expression was induced by feeding rats a Met (L-methionine)-restricted betaine-containing diet, and parameters of ApoB metabolism were evaluated. There were no generalized metabolic abnormalities associated with Met restriction for 7 days, as evidenced by control levels of serum glucose, ketones, alanine aminotransferase and L-homocysteine levels. Betaine plus the Met restriction resulted in lower serum insulin and non-esterified fatty acid levels. Betaine plus Met restriction induced hepatic BHMT 4-fold and ApoB mRNA 3-fold compared with Met restriction alone. No changes in percentage of edited ApoB mRNA were observed on the test diets. An increase in liver ApoB mRNA correlated with an 82% and 46% increase in ApoB and triacylglycerol production respectively using in vivo Triton WR 1339. Increased secretion of VLDL (very-low-density lipoprotein) with Met restriction plus betaine was associated with a 45% reduction in liver triacylglycerol compared with control. Nuclear run-off assays established that transcription of both bhmt and apob genes was also increased in Met-restricted plus betaine diets. No change in ApoB mRNA stability was detected in BHMT-transfected McA cells. Hepatic ApoB and BHMT mRNA levels were also increased by 1.8- and 3-fold respectively by betaine supplementation of Met-replete diets. Since dietary betaine increased ApoB mRNA, VLDL ApoB and triacylglycerol production and decreased hepatic triacylglycerol, results suggest that induction of apob transcription may provide a potential mechanism for mobilizing hepatic triacylglycerol by increasing ApoB available for VLDL assembly and secretion.

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