Quantitative Trait Locus Mapping of Macrophage Cholesterol Metabolism and CRISPR/Cas9 Editing Implicate an ACAT1 Truncation as a Causal Modifier Variant

Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 2018 Jan;38(1):83-91. doi: 10.1161/ATVBAHA.117.310173. Epub 2017 Nov 2.


Objective: Cholesterol metabolism is a dynamic process involving intracellular trafficking, cholesterol esterification, and cholesterol ester hydrolysis. Our objective was to identify genes that regulate macrophage cholesterol metabolism.

Approaches and results: We performed quantitative trait loci mapping of free and esterified cholesterol levels and the ratio of esterified to free cholesterol in acetylated low-density lipoprotein-loaded bone marrow-derived macrophages from an AKR×DBA/2 strain intercross. Ten distinct cholesterol modifier loci were identified, and bioinformatics was used to prioritize candidate genes. The strongest locus was located on distal chromosome 1, which we named Mcmm1 (macrophage cholesterol metabolism modifier 1). This locus harbors the Soat1 (sterol O-acyltransferase 1) gene, encoding Acyl-coenzyme A:cholesterol acyltransferase 1 (ACAT1), which esterifies free cholesterol. The parental AKR strain has an exon 2 deletion in Soat1, which leads to a 33 amino acid N-terminal truncation in ACAT1. CRISPR/Cas9 editing of DBA/2 embryonic stem cells was performed to replicate the AKR strain Soat1 exon 2 deletion, while leaving the remainder of the genome unaltered. DBA/2 stem cells and stem cells heterozygous and homozygous for the Soat1 exon 2 deletion were differentiated into macrophages and loaded with acetylated low-density lipoprotein. DBA/2 stem cell-derived macrophages accumulated less free cholesterol and more esterified cholesterol relative to cells heterozygous and homozygous for the Soat1 exon 2 deletion.

Conclusions: A Soat1 deletion present in AKR mice, and resultant N-terminal ACAT1 truncation, was confirmed to be a significant modifier of macrophage cholesterol metabolism. Other Mcmm loci candidate genes were prioritized via bioinformatics.

Keywords: cholesterol; esterification; foam cells; macrophage; metabolism.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acetyl-CoA C-Acetyltransferase / genetics*
  • Acetyl-CoA C-Acetyltransferase / metabolism
  • Animals
  • CRISPR-Associated Protein 9 / genetics*
  • CRISPR-Associated Protein 9 / metabolism
  • CRISPR-Cas Systems*
  • Cholesterol / metabolism*
  • Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats*
  • Computational Biology
  • Crosses, Genetic
  • Gene Editing / methods*
  • Genes, Modifier*
  • Genetic Association Studies
  • Genotype
  • Macrophages / enzymology*
  • Mice, Inbred AKR
  • Mice, Inbred DBA
  • Phenotype
  • Quantitative Trait Loci*
  • Species Specificity
  • Sterol O-Acyltransferase / genetics
  • Sterol O-Acyltransferase / metabolism


  • Cholesterol
  • Sterol O-Acyltransferase
  • sterol O-acyltransferase 1
  • Acat1 protein, mouse
  • Acetyl-CoA C-Acetyltransferase
  • CRISPR-Associated Protein 9