Chitosan oligosaccharides enhance lipid droplets via down-regulation of PCSK9 gene expression in HepG2 cells

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Chitosan oligosaccharides (COS), linear polymers of N-acetyl-D-glucosamine and deacetylated glucosamine, exhibit diverse pharmacological effects such as antimicrobial, antitumor, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities. Here, we explored their hypocholesterolemic effects in vivo and the molecular mechanisms of COS in hepatic cells. Our in vivo study of dyslipidemic ApoE-/- male mice showed that COS treatment of 500 mg kg−1 d−1 for 4 weeks clearly reduced the lipid deposits in the aorta and significantly decreased the hepatic proprotein convertase subtilisin/kexin type 9 (PCSK9) protein levels versus HFD groups (p < 0.05). To elucidate the mechanisms behind these effects, the HepG2 cell line was treated with COS. We found that COS (200 μg/ml) increased the amount of cell-surface low-density lipoprotein receptor (LDLR) and enhanced the lipid droplets in HepG2 cells (p < 0.05). The mRNA levels of LDLR and HMG-CoA protein levels were not altered, and the mRNA levels of PCSK9 were down-regulated by COS treatment for 24 h. We also observed that the expression levels of SREBP-2 (125 kD) and HNF-1α were increased in total cell lysates, but nuclear SREBP-2 (nSREBP-2, 68 kD, the active subunit of SREBP-2) levels were decreased and FOXO3a levels increased in nuclear lysates after COS treatment for 24 h. We demonstrated that one of the reasons for regulation of lipid transfer with COS is that FOXO3a levels are up-regulated by COS, leading to a reduction in the PCSK9 promoter binding capacity of HNF-1α and thus suppressing PCSK9 gene expression, up-regulating LDLR levels, and enhancing the lipid droplets in HepG2 cells. In addition, decreased expression of the PCSK9 gene was also contributed to by down-regulation of SREBP-2 by COS. We further confirmed the effect of suppression of PCSK9 expression by COS by utilizing RNA interference to silence HNF-1α and SREBP-2. Finally, to the best of our knowledge, we are the first to demonstrate that PCSK9 expression and LDLR activity are synergistically changed by a combination of HNF-1α and SREBP-2 after COS treatment. Our findings indicate that COS may regulate PCSK9 to modulate hepatic LDLR abundance and activity.

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