Genetic demonstration of intestinal NPC1L1 as a major determinant of hepatic cholesterol and blood atherogenic lipoprotein levels

Atherosclerosis. 2014 Dec;237(2):609-17. doi: 10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2014.09.036. Epub 2014 Oct 17.


Objective: The correlation between intestinal cholesterol absorption values and plasma low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (LDL-C) levels remains controversial. Niemann-Pick-C1-Like 1 (NPC1L1) is essential for intestinal cholesterol absorption, and is the target of ezetimibe, a cholesterol absorption inhibitor. However, studies with NPC1L1 knockout mice or ezetimibe cannot definitively clarify this correlation because NPC1L1 expression is not restricted to intestine in humans and mice. In this study we sought to genetically address this issue.

Methods and results: We developed a mouse model that lacks endogenous (NPC1L1) and LDL receptor (LDLR) (DKO), but transgenically expresses human NPC1L1 in gastrointestinal tract only (DKO/L1(IntOnly) mice). Our novel model eliminated potential effects of non-intestinal NPC1L1 on cholesterol homeostasis. We found that human NPC1L1 was localized at the intestinal brush border membrane of DKO/L1(IntOnly) mice. Cholesterol feeding induced formation of NPC1L1-positive vesicles beneath this membrane in an ezetimibe-sensitive manner. Compared to DKO mice, DKO/L1(IntOnly) mice showed significant increases in cholesterol absorption and blood/hepatic/biliary cholesterol. Increased blood cholesterol was restricted to very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) and LDL fractions, which was associated with increased secretion and plasma levels of apolipoproteins B100 and B48. Additionally, DKO/L1(IntOnly) mice displayed decreased fecal cholesterol excretion and hepatic/intestinal expression of cholesterologenic genes. Ezetimibe treatment virtually reversed all of the transgene-related phenotypes in DKO/L1(IntOnly) mice.

Conclusion: Our findings from DKO/L1(IntOnly) mice clearly demonstrate that NPC1L1-mediated cholesterol absorption is a major determinant of blood levels of apolipoprotein B-containing atherogenic lipoproteins, at least in mice.

Keywords: Apolipoprotein B; Cholesterol absorption; Chylomicron remnant; Fecal neutral sterol excretion; Low-density lipoprotein receptor; Niemann-Pick-C1-Like 1.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apolipoprotein B-100
  • Apolipoprotein B-48 / metabolism
  • Apolipoproteins B / metabolism
  • Azetidines / pharmacology
  • Cholesterol / blood
  • Cholesterol / metabolism
  • Cholesterol, LDL / blood*
  • Ezetimibe
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Male
  • Membrane Proteins / genetics
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism*
  • Membrane Transport Proteins
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Phenotype
  • Receptors, LDL / genetics
  • Receptors, LDL / metabolism*
  • Transgenes


  • Apob protein, mouse
  • Apolipoprotein B-100
  • Apolipoprotein B-48
  • Apolipoproteins B
  • Azetidines
  • Cholesterol, LDL
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Membrane Transport Proteins
  • NPC1L1 protein, human
  • Receptors, LDL
  • Cholesterol
  • Ezetimibe