BACKGROUND - Macrophage acyl-coenzyme A:cholesterol acyltransferase 1 (ACAT1) and apolipoprotein E (apoE) have been implicated in regulating cellular cholesterol homeostasis and therefore play critical roles in foam cell formation. Deletion of either ACAT1 or apoE results in increased atherosclerosis in hyperlipidemic mice, possibly as a consequence of altered cholesterol processing. We have studied the effect of macrophage ACAT1 deletion on atherogenesis in apoE-deficient (apoE-/-) mice with or without the restoration of macrophage apoE.
METHODS AND RESULTS - We used bone marrow transplantation to generate apoE-/- mice with macrophages of 4 genotypes: apoE+/+/ACAT1+/+ (wild type), apoE+/+/ACAT1-/- (ACAT-/-), apoE-/-/ACAT1+/+ (apoE-/-), and apoE-/-/ACAT1-/- (2KO). When macrophage apoE was present, plasma cholesterol levels normalized, and ACAT1 deficiency did not have significant effects on atherogenesis. However, when macrophage apoE was absent, ACAT1 deficiency increased atherosclerosis and apoptosis in the proximal aorta. Cholesterol efflux to apoA-I was significantly reduced (30% to 40%; P<0.001) in ACAT1-/- peritoneal macrophages compared with ACAT1+/+ controls regardless of apoE expression. 2KO macrophages had a 3- to 4-fold increase in ABCA1 message levels but decreased ABCA1 protein levels relative to ACAT1+/+ macrophages. Microarray analyses of ACAT1-/- macrophages showed increases in proinflammatory and procollagen genes and decreases in genes regulating membrane integrity, protein biosynthesis, and apoptosis.
CONCLUSIONS - Deficiency of macrophage ACAT1 accelerates atherosclerosis in hypercholesterolemic apoE-/- mice but has no effect when the hypercholesterolemia is corrected by macrophage apoE expression. However, ACAT1 deletion impairs ABCA1-mediated cholesterol efflux in macrophages regardless of apoE expression. Changes in membrane stability, susceptibility to apoptosis, and inflammatory response may also be important in this process.