Aim: This study was to explore whether activating transcription factor 6 (ATF6), an important sensor to endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress, would mediate oxidized low-density lipoprotein (ox-LDL) induced cholesterol accumulation and apoptosis in cultured macrophages and the underlying molecular mechanisms.
Methods: Intracellular lipid droplets and total cholesterol levels were assayed by oil red O staining and enzymatic colorimetry, respectively. Cell viability and apoptosis were determined using MTT assay and AnnexinV-FITC apoptosis detection kit, respectively. The nuclear translocation of ATF6 in cells was detected by immunofluorescence analysis. Protein and mRNA levels were examined by Western blot analysis and real time-PCR, respectively. ATF6 siRNA was transfected to RAW264.7 cells by lipofectamin.
Results: Exposure of cells to ox-LDL induced glucose-regulated protein 78 (GRP78). C/EBP homologous protein (CHOP), a key-signaling component of ER stress-induced apoptosis, was up-regulated in ox-LDL-treated cells. ATF6, a factor that positively regulates CHOP expression, was activated by ox-LDL in a concentration- and time- dependent manner. The role of the ATF6-mediated ER stress pathway was further confirmed through the siRNA-mediated knockdown of ATF6, which attenuated ox-LDL-induced upregulation of CHOP, cholesterol accumulation and apoptosis in macrophages. In addition, the phosphorylation of double-stranded RNA-activated protein kinase-like endoplasmic reticulum kinase (PERK), another factor that positively regulates CHOP expression, was induced in the presence of ox-LDL, and PERK-specific siRNA also inhibited the ox-LDL-induced upregulation of CHOP and apoptosis in RAW264.7 cells.
Conclusion: These results demonstrate that ER stress-related proteins, particularly ATF6 and its downstream molecule CHOP, are involved in ox-LDL-induced cholesterol accumulation and apoptosis in macrophages.