Dong B, Singh AB, Fung C, Kan K, Liu J
BACKGROUND: CETP inhibitors block the transfer of cholesteryl ester from HDL-C to VLDL-C and LDL-C, thereby raising HDL-C and lowering LDL-C. In this study, we explored the effect of CETP inhibitors on hepatic LDL receptor (LDLR) and PCSK9 expression and further elucidated the underlying regulatory mechanism. RESULTS: We first examined the effect of anacetrapib (ANA) and dalcetrapib (DAL) on LDLR and PCSK9 expression in hepatic cells in vitro. ANA exhibited a dose-dependent inhibition on both LDLR and PCSK9 expression in CETP-positive HepG2 cells and human primary hepatocytes as well as CETP-negative mouse primary hepatocytes (MPH). Moreover, the induction of LDLR protein expression by rosuvastatin in MPH was blunted by cotreatment with ANA. In both HepG2 and MPH ANA treatment reduced the amount of mature form of SREBP2 (SREBP2-M). In vivo, oral administration of ANA to dyslipidemic C57BL/6J mice at a daily dose of 50 mg/kg for 1 week elevated serum total cholesterol by approximately 24.5% (p < 0.05%) and VLDL-C by 70% (p < 0.05%) with concomitant reductions of serum PCSK9 and liver LDLR/SREBP2-M protein. Finally, we examined the in vitro effect of two other strong CETP inhibitors evacetrapib and torcetrapib on LDLR/PCSK9 expression and observed a similar inhibitory effect as ANA in a concentration range of 1-10 μM. CONCLUSION: Our study revealed an unexpected off-target effect of CETP inhibitors that reduce the mature form of SREBP2, leading to attenuated transcription of hepatic LDLR and PCSK9. This negative regulation of SREBP pathway by ANA manifested in mice where CETP activity was absent and affected serum cholesterol metabolism.