Retinol uptake and metabolism, and cellular retinol binding protein expression in an in vitro model of hepatic stellate cells

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Abstract

Liver is a major site of retinoid metabolism and storage, and more than 80% of the liver retinoids are stored in hepatic stellate cells. These cells represent less than 1% of the total liver protein, reaching a very high relative intracellular retinoid concentration. The plasma level of retinol is maintained close to 2 μM, and hepatic stellate cells have to be able both to uptake or to release retinol depending upon the extracellular retinol status. In view of their paucity in the liver tissue, stellate cells have been studied in primary cultures, in which they loose rapidly the stored lipids and retinol, and convert spontaneously into the activated myofibroblast phenotype, turning a long-term study of their retinol metabolism impossible. We have analyzed the retinol metabolism in the established GRX cell line, representative of stellate cells. We showed that this cell line behaves very similarly, with respect the retinol uptake and release, to primary cultures of hepatic stellate cells. Moreover, we showed that the cellular retinol binding protein (CRBP-I) expression in these cells, relevant for both uptake and esterification of retinol, responds to the extracellular retinol status, and is correlated to the retinol binding capacity of the cytosol. Its expression is not associated with the overall induction of the lipocyte phenotype by other agents. We conclude that the GRX cell line represents an in vitro model of hepatic stellate cells, and responds very efficiently to wide variations of the extracellular retinol status by autonomous controls of its uptake, storage or release.

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