Hexadecylphosphocholine interferes with the intracellular transport of cholesterol in HepG2 cells

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We have shown, in a previous publication, that nontoxic concentrations of hexadecylphosphocholine exert an antiproliferative effect on HepG2 cells. Hexadecylphosphocholine also interferes with the biosynthesis of cholesterol and phosphatidylcholine. We have now extended our studies to try to establish the molecular mechanism by which hexadecylphosphocholine disrupts cholesterol homeostasis. Using radiolabelled substrates we determined the effect of hexadecylphosphocholine on cholesterol synthesis, the destiny of cholesterol from low-density lipoprotein and the transport of cholesterol between the plasma membrane and the endoplasmic reticulum. Protein levels and gene expression of the main proteins involved in cholesterol homeostasis were analysed by western blotting and RT-PCR, respectively. HepG2 cells exposed to hexadecylphosphocholine showed an increase in cholesterol biosynthesis when acetate, but not mevalonate, was used as a substrate. The activity of 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl-CoA reductase (EC and low-density lipoprotein receptor, as well as the corresponding mRNA expression, increased after 24 h of treatment with hexadecylphosphocholine. Cholesteryl linoleate in low-density lipoprotein uptake and further hydrolysis of these esters increased but the cholesterol esterification was reduced after 6 h of treatment with alkylphosphocholine. Cholesterol transport from the plasma membrane to the endoplasmic reticulum was impaired by hexadecylphosphocholine. In conclusion, hexadecylphosphocholine interfered with the transport of cholesterol from the cell surface to the endoplasmic reticulum, leading to a depletion of cholesterol in the endoplasmic reticulum and a deregulation of cholesterol biosynthesis. The accumulation of cholesterol within the cell and the reduction in phosphatidylcholine synthesis produces an alteration in the phosphatidylcholine/cholesterol ratio that may well be responsible for the antiproliferative activity exhibited by hexadecylphosphocholine in HepG2 cells.

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