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PLoS One. 2012;7(4):e34945. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0034945. Epub 2012 Apr 20.

Replacement of retinyl esters by polyunsaturated triacylglycerol species in lipid droplets of hepatic stellate cells during activation.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, Faculty of Veterinary Sciences, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands.


Activation of hepatic stellate cells has been recognized as one of the first steps in liver injury and repair. During activation, hepatic stellate cells transform into myofibroblasts with concomitant loss of their lipid droplets (LDs) and production of excessive extracellular matrix. Here we aimed to obtain more insight in the dynamics and mechanism of LD loss. We have investigated the LD degradation processes in rat hepatic stellate cells in vitro with a combined approach of confocal Raman microspectroscopy and mass spectrometric analysis of lipids (lipidomics). Upon activation of the hepatic stellate cells, LDs reduce in size, but increase in number during the first 7 days, but the total volume of neutral lipids did not decrease. The LDs also migrate to cellular extensions in the first 7 days, before they disappear. In individual hepatic stellate cells. all LDs have a similar Raman spectrum, suggesting a similar lipid profile. However, Raman studies also showed that the retinyl esters are degraded more rapidly than the triacylglycerols upon activation. Lipidomic analyses confirmed that after 7 days in culture hepatic stellate cells have lost most of their retinyl esters, but not their triacylglycerols and cholesterol esters. Furthermore, we specifically observed a large increase in triacylglycerol-species containing polyunsaturated fatty acids, partly caused by an enhanced incorporation of exogenous arachidonic acid. These results reveal that lipid droplet degradation in activated hepatic stellate cells is a highly dynamic and regulated process. The rapid replacement of retinyl esters by polyunsaturated fatty acids in LDs suggests a role for both lipids or their derivatives like eicosanoids during hepatic stellate cell activation.

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