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J Biol Chem. 2008 Dec 26;283(52):36195-204. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M807772200. Epub 2008 Oct 22.

Hyaluronan accumulation is elevated in cultures of low density lipoprotein receptor-deficient cells and is altered by manipulation of cell cholesterol content.

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Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason, Hope Heart Program, Seattle, Washington 98101, USA.


The extracellular matrix molecule hyaluronan (HA) accumulates in human atherosclerotic lesions. Yet the reasons for this accumulation have not been adequately addressed. Because abnormalities in lipid metabolism promote atherosclerosis, we have asked whether disrupted cholesterol homeostasis alters HA accumulation in low density lipoprotein receptor-deficient cell cultures. Cultured aortic smooth muscle cells (ASMC) from Watanabe heritable hyperlipidemic (WHHL) rabbits and skin fibroblasts from homozygous patients with familial hypercholesterolemia accumulated 2-4-fold more HA than corresponding cells from age- and sex-matched normolipidemic rabbits and individuals. This occurred in both cell-associated and secreted HA fractions and was independent of cell density or medium serum concentration. WHHL ASMC cultures synthesized twice the proportion of high molecular mass HA (>2x10(6) Da) as normal rabbit ASMC but showed a lower capacity to degrade exogenous [3H]HA. Most importantly, cholesterol depletion or blocking cholesterol synthesis markedly reduced HA accumulation in WHHL ASMC cultures, whereas cholesterol replenishment or stimulation of cholesterol synthesis restored elevated HA levels. We conclude the following: 1) maintaining normal HA levels in cell cultures requires normal cell cholesterol homeostasis; 2) HA degradation may contribute to but is not the predominant mechanism to increase high molecular mass HA accumulation in low density lipoprotein receptor-deficient WHHL ASMC cultures; and 3) elevated accumulation of HA depends on cellular or membrane cholesterol content and, potentially, intact cholesterol-rich microdomains.

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