The hepatic expression of Niemann-Pick C1-like 1 (NPC1L1), which is a key molecule in intestinal cholesterol absorption, is high in humans. In addition to NPC1L1, Niemann-Pick C2 (NPC2), a secretory cholesterol-binding protein involved in intracellular cholesterol trafficking and the stimulation of biliary cholesterol secretion, is also expressed in the liver. In this study, we examined the molecular interaction and functional association between NPC1L1 and NPC2. In vitro studies with adenovirus-based or plasmid-mediated gene transfer systems revealed that NPC1L1 negatively regulated the protein expression and secretion of NPC2 without affecting the level of NPC2 messenger RNA. Experiments with small interfering RNA against NPC1L1 confirmed the endogenous association of these proteins. In addition, endocytosed NPC2 could compensate for the reduction of NPC2 in NPC1L1-overexpressing cells, and this demonstrated that the posttranscriptional regulation of NPC2 was dependent on a novel ability of NPC1L1 to inhibit the maturation of NPC2 and accelerate the degradation of NPC2 during its maturation. Furthermore, to confirm the physiological relevance of NPC1L1-mediated regulation, we analyzed human liver specimens and found a negative correlation between the protein levels of hepatic NPC1L1 and hepatic NPC2.
Conclusion: NPC1L1 down-regulates the expression and secretion of NPC2 by inhibiting its maturation and accelerating its degradation. NPC2 functions as a regulator of intracellular cholesterol trafficking and biliary cholesterol secretion; therefore, in addition to its role in cholesterol re-uptake from the bile by hepatocytes, hepatic NPC1L1 may control cholesterol homeostasis via the down-regulation of NPC2.
Copyright © 2011 American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases.