Phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylethanolamine plasmalogens in lipid loaded human macrophages

PLoS One. 2018 Oct 11;13(10):e0205706. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0205706. eCollection 2018.


Background: Plasmalogens are either phosphatidylcholine (PC P) or phosphatidylethanolamine (PE P) glycerophospholipids containing a vinyl ether moiety in sn-1-position and an esterified fatty acid in sn-2 position. Multiple functions have been proposed, including reservoir of precursors for inflammatory mediators, modulation of membrane fluidity, and anti-oxidative properties. They could therefore play a role under conditions of metabolic stress. Especially enzymatically modified LDL (eLDL) and oxidatively modified LDL (oxLDL) represent modifications of LDL that are taken up by macrophages in atherosclerotic plaques. The aim of this study was to analyze plasmalogen related effects of eLDL and oxLDL in human monocyte derived macrophages, as well as the effects of HDL3 mediated deloading.

Methods: Elutriated monocytes from nine healthy donors were differentiated in vitro for four days. Macrophages were then loaded with native LDL, eLDL and oxLDL for 24h and subsequently deloaded with HDL3 for another 24h. Lipidomic and transcriptomic profiles were obtained.

Results: Loading of macrophages with eLDL and oxLDL led to a transient but strong elevation of lysophosphatidylcholine (LPC) most likely through direct uptake. Only eLDL induced increased levels of total PC, presumably through an induction of PC synthesis. On the other hand treatment with oxLDL led to a significant increase in PC P. Analysis of individual lipid species showed lipoprotein and saturation specific effects for LPC, PC P and PE P species. Membrane fluidity was decreased by the large amount of FC contained in the lipoproteins, as indicated by a lower PC to FC ratio after lipoprotein loading. In contrast the observed changes in the saturated to mono-unsaturated fatty acid (SFA to MUFA) and saturated to poly-unsaturated fatty acid (SFA to PUFA) ratios in PE P could represent a cellular reaction to counteract this effect by producing more fluid membranes. Transcriptomic analysis showed considerable differences between eLDL and oxLDL treated macrophages. As a common feature of both lipoproteins we detected a strong downregulation of pathways for endogenous lipid synthesis as well as for exogenous lipid uptake. Deloading with HDL3 had only minor effects on total lipid class as well as on individual lipid species levels, most of the time not reaching significance. Interestingly treatment with HDL3 had no effect on membrane fluidity under these conditions, although incubation with HDL3 was partially able to counteract the oxLDL induced transcriptomic effects. To investigate the functional effect of lipoprotein treatment on macrophage polarization we performed surface marker flow cytometry. Under our experimental conditions oxLDL was able to partially shift the surface marker pattern towards a pro-inflammatory M1-like phenotype. This is consistent with the consumption of arachidonic acid containing PE P species in oxLDL treated cells, presumably for the synthesis of inflammatory mediators.

Summary: Our findings provide novel data on the lipoprotein induced, lipidomic and transcriptomic changes in macrophages. This can help us better understand the development of metabolic, inflammatory diseases as well as improve our background knowledge on lipid biomarkers in serum.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Flow Cytometry
  • Humans
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Lipoproteins, HDL / metabolism
  • Lipoproteins, HDL / pharmacology
  • Lipoproteins, LDL / metabolism*
  • Lipoproteins, LDL / pharmacology
  • Macrophages / drug effects
  • Macrophages / metabolism*
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Phosphatidylcholines / metabolism*
  • Phosphatidylethanolamines / metabolism*
  • Phospholipids / metabolism
  • Plasmalogens / metabolism*
  • Transcriptome / drug effects


  • Lipoproteins, HDL
  • Lipoproteins, LDL
  • Phosphatidylcholines
  • Phosphatidylethanolamines
  • Phospholipids
  • Plasmalogens
  • phosphatidylethanolamine

Grant support

The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Community's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement n° 202272, IP-Project LipidomicNet to GS. The results of this publication were partly funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research under the Project Number FKZ01KU1216J (Deutsches Epigenom Programm, DEEP) to GS.