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According to the secretion-capture model of remnant lipoprotein clearance, apo E secreted by hepatocytes into the space of Disse serves to enrich the remnants with a ligand for receptor-mediated lipoprotein endocytosis. Current evidence supports a two-receptor model of lipoprotein removal, in which apo E-containing remnants bind either the low density lipoprotein receptor (LDLR) or the LDLR-related protein (LRP). Recently, we demonstrated that reconstitution of apo E(-/-) mice with apo E(+/+) marrow results in normalization of plasma lipoprotein levels, indicating that hepatic expression of apo E is not required for remnant clearance and calling into question the relevance of the secretion-capture mechanism. To dissect the relative contributions of LDLR and LRP to the cellular catabolism of remnant lipoproteins by the hepatocyte, bone marrow transplantation (BMT) was used to reconstitute macrophage expression of apo E in mice that were null for expression of both apo E and the LDLR. Reconstitution of macrophage apo E in apo E(-/-)/LDLR(-/-) mice had no effect on serum lipid and lipoprotein concentrations, although it produced plasma apo E levels up to 16-fold higher than in C57BL/6 controls. Immunocytochemistry of hepatic sections revealed abundant staining for apo E in the space of Disse, but no evidence of receptor-mediated endocytosis of remnant lipoproteins. Transient expression of human LDLR in the livers of apo E(+/+)--> apo E(-/-)/LDLR(-/-) mice by adenoviral gene transfer resulted in normalization of serum lipid levels and in the clearance of apo E-containing lipoproteins from the space of Disse. We conclude that whereas the LDLR efficiently clears remnant lipoproteins irrespective of the site of origin of apo E, endocytosis by the chylomicron remnant receptor (LRP) is absolutely dependent on hepatic expression of apo E. These data demonstrate in vivo the physiologic relevance of the apo E secretion-capture mechanism in the liver.