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PLoS One. 2011 Apr 29;6(4):e19420. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0019420.

Coordinately regulated alternative splicing of genes involved in cholesterol biosynthesis and uptake.

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Department of Atherosclerosis Research, Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute, Oakland, California, United States of America.


Genes involved in cholesterol biosynthesis and uptake are transcriptionally regulated in response to cellular sterol content in a coordinated manner. A number of these genes, including 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl coenzyme A reductase (HMGCR) and LDL receptor (LDLR), undergo alternative splicing, resulting in reductions of enzyme or protein activity. Here we demonstrate that cellular sterol depletion suppresses, and sterol loading induces, alternative splicing of multiple genes involved in the maintenance of cholesterol homeostasis including HMGCR and LDLR, the key regulators of cellular cholesterol biosynthesis and uptake, respectively. These changes were observed in both in vitro studies of the HepG2 human hepatoma derived cell line, as well as in vivo studies of St. Kitts vervets, also known as African green monkeys, a commonly used primate model for investigating cholesterol metabolism. These effects are mediated in part by sterol regulation of polypyrimidine tract binding protein 1 (PTBP1), since knock-down of PTBP1 eliminates sterol induced changes in alternative splicing of several of these genes. Single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that influence HMGCR and LDLR alternative splicing (rs3846662 and rs688, respectively), have been associated with variation in plasma LDL-cholesterol levels. Sterol-induced changes in alternative splicing are blunted in carriers of the minor alleles for each of these SNPs, indicating an interaction between genetic and non-genetic regulation of this process. Our results implicate alternative splicing as a novel mechanism of enhancing the robust transcriptional response to conditions of cellular cholesterol depletion or accumulation. Thus coordinated regulation of alternative splicing may contribute to cellular cholesterol homeostasis as well as plasma LDL levels.

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