ABCA1 increases extracellular ATP to mediate cholesterol efflux to ApoA-I

Am J Physiol Cell Physiol. 2011 Oct;301(4):C886-94. doi: 10.1152/ajpcell.00042.2011. Epub 2011 Jun 22.


ATP-binding cassette protein A1 (ABCA1) is a key plasma membrane protein required for the efflux of cellular cholesterol to extracellular acceptors, particularly to apolipoprotein A-I (apoA-I). This process is essential to maintain cholesterol homeostasis in the body. The detailed molecular mechanisms, however, are still insufficiently understood. Also, the molecular identity of ABCA1, i.e., channel, pump, or flippase, remains unknown. In this study we analyzed extracellular ATP levels in the medium of ABCA1-expressing BHK cells and RAW macrophages and compared them to the medium of nonexpressing cells. We found that extracellular ATP concentrations are significantly elevated when cells express ABCA1. Importantly, a dysfunctional ABCA1 mutant (A937V), when expressed similarly as wild-type ABCA1, is unable to raise extracellular ATP concentration, which suggests a casual relationship between functional ABCA1 and elevated extracellular ATP. To explore the physiological role of extracellular ATP, we analyzed ABCA1-mediated cholesterol efflux under conditions where extracellular ATP levels were modulated. We found that increasing extracellular ATP within the physiological range, i.e., <μM, promotes cholesterol efflux to apoA-I. On the other hand, removing extracellular ATP, either by adding apyrase to the medium or by expressing a plasma membrane-bound ectonucleotidase, CD39, abolishes cholesterol efflux to apoA-I. On the basis of these results, we conclude that, through direct or indirect mechanisms, ABCA1 functions to raise ATP levels in the medium. This elevated extracellular ATP is required for ABCA1-mediated cholesterol efflux to apoA-I.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • 8-Bromo Cyclic Adenosine Monophosphate / pharmacology
  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter 1
  • ATP-Binding Cassette Transporters / genetics
  • ATP-Binding Cassette Transporters / metabolism*
  • Adenosine Triphosphate / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Antigens, CD / genetics
  • Antigens, CD / metabolism
  • Apolipoprotein A-I / metabolism*
  • Apyrase / genetics
  • Apyrase / metabolism
  • Cell Line
  • Cholesterol / metabolism*
  • Cricetinae
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Macrophages / drug effects
  • Macrophages / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mifepristone / pharmacology
  • Mutation


  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter 1
  • ATP-Binding Cassette Transporters
  • Antigens, CD
  • Apolipoprotein A-I
  • 8-Bromo Cyclic Adenosine Monophosphate
  • Mifepristone
  • Adenosine Triphosphate
  • Cholesterol
  • Apyrase
  • CD39 antigen