Downregulation of NK cell activities in Apolipoprotein C-III-induced hyperlipidemia resulting from lipid-induced metabolic reprogramming and crosstalk with lipid-laden dendritic cells

Metabolism. 2021 Jul;120:154800. doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2021.154800. Epub 2021 May 26.


Objective: Apolipoprotein C-III (Apoc3) is a key component of triglyceride-rich lipoproteins (TRL). The Apoc3-transgenic mice are characterized by high levels of plasma triglyceride and free fatty acids (FFAs). Apoc3 stimulates human monocytes via activation of the NLRP3 inflammasome. Considering the NK cell downregulation in obese individuals and the possible stimulatory-effects of macrophages, variations of NK cell functions and underlying mechanisms were investigated in mice with Apoc3-induced hyperlipidemia.

Methods: Variations of activities and glycolipid metabolism in NK cells of the Apoc3-transgenic mice with hyperlipidemia were detected. Molecular mechanisms of lipid-induced metabolic-reprogramming in NK cells were analyzed based on the transcriptome sequencing. Finally, effects of DCs in mice with hyperlipidemia on NK cell functions were determined.

Results: Impaired number and function of NK cells in Apoc3TG mice was involved with the increased fatty acid oxidation and decreased glycolysis. Increased uptake of FFAs in Apoc3TG-NK cells contributed to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR) activation and the downstream PTEN-AKT-mTOR/FOXO1 signaling pathway. Inhibition of PPAR or CPT1α only partly reversed the IFN-γ production of Apoc3TG-NK cells, but completely restored IFN-γ secretion by palmitic acid-treated NK cells ex vivo, indicating that other factors contributed to the Apoc3TG-NK cell downregulation. Meanwhile, Apoc3TG-DCs, which contained more lipids in the cytoplasm, depended on reactive oxygen species (ROS) to increase the expressions PD-L1, TGF-β1, and NKG2D ligands and suppress NK cell activities. DCs of the Apoc3TG-CD36-/+ hybrid mice with less intracellular lipids and ROS production could not inhibit NK cells, indicating that intracellular FFAs promoted the immune-modulatory function of DCs.

Conclusions: The downregulation of NK cell activities in individuals with Apoc3-induced hyperlipidemia was due to the increased fatty acid oxidation in NK cells and the bystander suppression caused by lipid-laden DCs. The dual recovery function of NK cells and DCs would improve the prognosis of patients with metabolic syndrome.

Keywords: Apoc3; Dendritic cell; Downregulation; Fatty acid oxidation; NK cell.