Phosphatidylcholine-Mediated Aqueous Diffusion of Cellular Cholesterol Down-Regulates the ABCA1 Transporter in Human Skin Fibroblasts

Int J Biochem Res Rev. 2015;5(3):214-224. doi: 10.9734/IJBCRR/2015/14058.


ATP-binding cassette protein A1 (ABCA1) is a cholesterol transporter that contributes to the active transport/removal of excess cellular cholesterol. ABCA1 expression is up-regulated when cells accumulate cholesterol.

Aims: The purpose of this study was to determine any correlation between extracellular phospholipid levels and ABCA1 expression and function.

Methodology: Human foreskin fibroblasts were incubated with cholesterol alone or cholesterol and phosphatidylcholine. Total RNA was isolated and subjected to end-point RT-PCR to compare ABCA1 transcript levels. Cell lysates were subjected to Western blot analysis to compare ABCA1 protein levels. Cells were loaded with radiolabeled cholesterol and cellular cholesterol efflux was measured in the presence and absence of apoE, a cholesterol acceptor. ApoE-dependent efflux was calculated as a measure of ABCA1-mediated efflux.

Results: Here we show that incubation of cholesterol-loaded human skin fibroblasts with L-α-phosphatidylcholine (PC) decreases ABCA1 mRNA and protein levels by 93% and 57%, respectively, compared to cells loaded with cholesterol alone. Similarly, PC treatment results in a 25% reduction in ABCG1 mRNA levels compared to cells treated with cholesterol alone, but there is no change in SR-BI transcript levels. Subsequent incubation of phospholipid-treated cells with a cholesterol acceptor such as apoE for 24 hours shows a 65% reduction in ABCA1-mediated cholesterol efflux compared to efflux in cells not treated with PC. During the lipid treatment itself, there is a 2.7-fold greater loss of cholesterol from PC treated cells compared to cells treated with cholesterol alone. Measurement of cholesterol in cellular lipid extracts reveals that cells incubated in the presence of phosphatidylcholine are significantly depleted of cholesterol having only 20% of the cholesterol compared to cells loaded with cholesterol alone.

Conclusion: Thus, phosphatidylcholine facilitates removal of cellular cholesterol, thereby negating the cholesterol-dependent induction of ABCA1 message, protein and function.

Keywords: ABCA1; aqueous diffusion; cholesterol efflux; cholesterol transport; phophatidylcholine.