Moon Young Bae Rachel Kim Judy Wang


Introduction: Improper cholesterol metabolism results in accumulation of low-density lipoproteins (LDL). High levels of LDL cholesterol deposits in blood vessels, forming plaques and contributing to various cardiovascular diseases (CVD). The nuclear farnesoid X receptor (FXR) regulates the transcription of genes involved in cholesterol metabolism and is a therapeutic target for cholesterol dysregulation. Studies conducted on immortalized human hepatocytes demonstrate FXR signaling-induced downregulation of proprotein convertase subtilisin/kexin type 9 (PCSK9) expression. PCSK9 is an LDL receptor-degrading enzyme whose upregulation is implicated in cholesterol-mediated diseases. Specifically, the FXR target gene SHP (small heterodimer partner) is a transcriptional regulator that has been implicated in an inverse relationship with PCSK9 expression. The biomolecular mechanism mediating this relationship has not been explored, meriting investigation into a potential novel axis of cholesterol metabolism. We hypothesize that SHP is a direct repressor of PCSK9 transcription.

Methods: To investigate, we will knock out SHP expression in the liver hepatocyte cell line AML12 using small interfering RNAs (siRNAs). To confirm SHP knockout on transcriptomic and proteomic levels, reverse transcription quantitative PCR (RT-qPCR) and Western blotting will be performed. To assess SHP binding to the promoter region of PCSK9, an electrophoretic mobility supershift (EMSA) assay will be performed on unstimulated or chenodeoxycolic acid (CDCA)-stimulated AML12 cells that have undergone SHP or control knockouts. Western blotting will quantitate PCSK9 protein expression following SHP knockout in CDCA-stimulated and unstimulated conditions.

Results: Results from EMSA are expected to demonstrate SHP binding to the promoter region of PCSK9 in a transcription factor complex to repress transcription. SHP knockout models are expected to show upregulated PCSK9 expression at transcriptomic and proteomic levels.

Discussion: If successful, our study presents a novel perspective on cholesterol metabolism by characterizing the inhibitory effect of SHP on PCSK9 expression. This underlines the critical role of FXR signaling in PCSK9 regulation, and knockout models and assay techniques provide valuable evidence of this regulatory role.

Conclusion: This study will establish an enhanced understanding of the SHP/PCSK9 pathway within broader pathways of cholesterol metabolism. Further research may explore therapies targeting the SHP/PCSK9 pathway to manage CVD downstream of cholesterol dysregulation.

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Research Protocol