To study potential effects of hepatic cholesterol concentration on secretion of very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) by the liver, male rats were fed on unsupplemented chow, chow with lovastatin (0.1%), or chow with lovastatin (0.1%) and cholesterol (0.1%) for 1 week. Livers were isolated from these animals and perfused in vitro, with a medium containing [2-14C]acetate, bovine serum albumin and glucose in Krebs-Henseleit buffer, and with an oleate-albumin complex. With lovastatin feeding, the hepatic concentrations of cholesteryl esters and triacylglycerols before perfusion were decreased, although free cholesterol was unchanged. However, hepatic secretion of all the VLDL lipids was decreased dramatically by treatment with lovastatin. Although total secretion of VLDL triacylglycerol, phospholipid, cholesterol and cholesteryl esters was decreased, the decrease in triacylglycerol was greater than that in free cholesterol or cholesteryl esters, resulting in secretion of a VLDL particle enriched in sterols relative to triacylglycerol. In separate studies, the uptake of VLDL by livers from control animals or animals treated with lovastatin was measured. Uptake of VLDL was estimated by disappearance of VLDL labelled with [1-14C]oleate in the triacylglycerol moiety, and was observed to be similar in both groups. During perfusion, triacylglycerol accumulated to a greater extent in livers from lovastatin-fed rats than in control animals. The depressed output of VLDL triacylglycerols and the increase in triacylglycerol in the livers from lovastatin-treated animals was indicative of a limitation in the rate of VLDL secretion. Addition of cholesterol (either free cholesterol or human low-density lipoprotein) to the medium perfusing livers from lovastatin-fed rats, or addition of cholesterol to the diet of lovastatin-fed rats, increased the hepatic concentration of cholesteryl esters and the output of VLDL lipids. The concentration of cholesteryl esters in the liver was correlated with the secretion of VLDL by the liver. These data suggest that cholesterol is an obligate component of the VLDL required for its secretion. It is additionally suggested that cholesteryl esters are in rapid equilibrium with a small pool of free cholesterol which comprises a putative metabolic pool available and necessary for the formation and secretion of the VLDL. Furthermore, the specific radioactivity (d.p.m./mumol) of the secreted VLDL free cholesterol was much greater than that of hepatic free cholesterol, suggesting that the putative hepatic metabolic pool is only a minor fraction of total hepatic free cholesterol.

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