Roles of the low density lipoprotein receptor and related receptors in inhibition of lipoprotein(a) internalization by proprotein convertase subtilisin/kexin type 9

PLoS One. 2017 Jul 27;12(7):e0180869. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0180869. eCollection 2017.


Elevated plasma concentrations of lipoprotein(a) (Lp(a)) are a causal risk factor for cardiovascular disease. The mechanisms underlying Lp(a) clearance from plasma remain unclear, which is an obvious barrier to the development of therapies to specifically lower levels of this lipoprotein. Recently, it has been documented that monoclonal antibody inhibitors of proprotein convertase subtilisin/kexin type 9 (PCSK9) can lower plasma Lp(a) levels by 30%. Since PCSK9 acts primarily through the low density lipoprotein receptor (LDLR), this result is in conflict with the prevailing view that the LDLR does not participate in Lp(a) clearance. To support our recent findings in HepG2 cells that the LDLR can act as a bona fide receptor for Lp(a) whose effects are sensitive to PCSK9, we undertook a series of Lp(a) internalization experiments using different hepatic cells, with different variants of PCSK9, and with different members of the LDLR family. We found that PCSK9 decreased Lp(a) and/or apo(a) internalization by Huh7 human hepatoma cells and by primary mouse and human hepatocytes. Overexpression of human LDLR appeared to enhance apo(a)/Lp(a) internalization in both types of primary cells. Importantly, internalization of Lp(a) by LDLR-deficient mouse hepatocytes was not affected by PCSK9, but the effect of PCSK9 was restored upon overexpression of human LDLR. In HepG2 cells, Lp(a) internalization was decreased by gain-of-function mutants of PCSK9 more than by wild-type PCSK9, and a loss-of function variant had a reduced ability to influence Lp(a) internalization. Apo(a) internalization by HepG2 cells was not affected by apo(a) isoform size. Finally, we showed that very low density lipoprotein receptor (VLDLR), LDR-related protein (LRP)-8, and LRP-1 do not play a role in Lp(a) internalization or the effect of PCSK9 on Lp(a) internalization. Our findings are consistent with the idea that PCSK9 inhibits Lp(a) clearance through the LDLR, but do not exclude other effects of PCSK9 such as on Lp(a) biosynthesis.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apolipoproteins A / metabolism
  • CHO Cells
  • Cricetinae
  • Cricetulus
  • Endocytosis*
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Hep G2 Cells
  • Hepatocytes / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Lipoprotein(a) / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Proprotein Convertase 9 / metabolism*
  • Protein Isoforms / metabolism
  • Receptors, LDL / metabolism*


  • Apolipoproteins A
  • Lipoprotein(a)
  • Protein Isoforms
  • Receptors, LDL
  • PCSK9 protein, human
  • Pcsk9 protein, mouse
  • Proprotein Convertase 9

Grant support

The work was funded through a research contract from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc. The funders had no role in study design or data collection and analysis. The funders reviewed the manuscript and approved it for submission.