In addition to its ability to remove cholesterol from cells, HDL also delivers cholesterol to cells through a poorly defined process in which cholesteryl esters are selectively transferred from HDL particles into the cell without the uptake and degradation of the lipoprotein particle. The HDL-cholesteryl ester selective uptake pathway is known to occur in human, rabbit, and rodent hepatocytes where it may contribute to the clearance of plasma cholesteryl ester. The selective uptake pathway has been studied most extensively in steroidogenic cells of rodents in which it accounts for 90% or more of the cholesterol destined for steroid production or cholesteryl ester accumulation. In this study we have used apo A-I-, apo A-II-, and apo E-deficient mice created by gene targeting in embryonic stem cells to test the importance of the three major HDL proteins in determining cholesteryl ester accumulation in steroidogenic cells of the adrenal gland, ovary, and testis. apo E and apo A-II deficiencies were found to have only modest effects on cholesteryl ester accumulation. In contrast, apo A-I deficiency caused an almost complete failure to accumulate cholesteryl ester in steroidogenic cells. These results suggest that apo A-I is essential for the selective uptake of HDL-cholesteryl esters. The lack of apo A-I has a major impact on adrenal gland physiology causing diminished basal corticosteroid production, a blunted steroidogenic response to stress, and increased expression of compensatory pathways to provide cholesterol substrate for steroid production.
A S Plump, S K Erickson, W Weng, J S Partin, J L Breslow, D L Williams