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IUBMB Life. 2014 Sep;66(9):616-23. doi: 10.1002/iub.1314.

Apolipoprotein E isoforms and lipoprotein metabolism.

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Division of Translational Medicine and Human Genetics, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, 11-130 Translational Research Center, Philadelphia, PA, USA.


Apolipoprotein (apo) E is a 299-residue protein which functions as a key regulator of plasma lipid levels. Human apoE exists as three common isoforms and the parent form, apoE3, operates optimally in promoting clearance of triglyceride (TG)-rich lipoproteins and is associated with normal plasma lipid levels. This result occurs because apoE3 possesses both the requisite lipid-binding ability and affinity for the low density lipoprotein receptor (LDLR) to mediate appropriate lipolytic processing and endocytosis of TG-rich lipoprotein remnant particles. ApoE2 which differs from apoE3 by the single amino acid substitution Arg158Cys located near the LDLR recognition site exhibits impaired binding to the receptor and an inability to promote clearance of TG-rich lipoprotein remnant particles; this isoform is associated with Type-III hyperlipoproteinemia. ApoE4 which differs from apoE3 by the single amino acid substitution Cys112Arg is also associated with dyslipidemia although binding of this isoform to the LDLR is unaffected. The amino acid substitution affects the organization and stability of both the N-terminal helix bundle domain and separately folded C-terminal domain so that apoE4 has enhanced lipid binding ability. As a consequence, apoE4 binds better than apoE3 to the surface of very low density lipoprotein (VLDL) particles and impairs their lipolytic processing in the circulation so that apoE4 is associated with a more pro-atherogenic lipoprotein-cholesterol distribution (higher VLDL-cholesterol/high density lipoprotein-cholesterol ratio). This review summarizes current understanding of the structural differences between apoE2, apoE3, and apoE4, and the molecular mechanisms responsible for the alterations in lipoprotein metabolism resulting from this polymorphism of apoE. Detailed knowledge of how expression of structurally distinct apoE variants modifies lipoprotein metabolism provides a basis for developing ways to manipulate the functionality of apoE in vivo.


apolipoprotein E; atherosclerosis; cholesterol; high density lipoprotein; lipoprotein metabolism; low density lipoprotein receptor; triglyceride; very low density lipoprotein

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