Date of Graduation


Document Type

Dissertation (PhD)

Program Affiliation

Virology and Gene Therapy

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Ba-Bie Teng, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Diane Bick, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Bingliang Fang, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Barrett Harvey, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Mikhail Kolonin, Ph.D.


Plasma low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels are positively correlated with the incidence of coronary artery disease. In the circulation, the plasma LDL clearance is mainly achieved by the uptake via LDL receptor (LDLR). Proprotein convertase subtilisin/kexin type 9 (PCSK9) is a newly discovered gene, playing an important role in LDL metabolism. Gain-of-function mutations of PCSK9 lead to hypercholesterolemia and loss-of-function mutations of PCSK9 are associated with decrease of LDL cholesterol. The effects of PCSK9 on cholesterol levels are the consequence of a strong interaction between the catalytic domain of PCSK9 and epidermal growth factor-like repeat A (EGF-A) domain of LDLR on the cell surface of hepatocytes. This PCSK9/LDLR complex enters the cell via endocytosis, where both PCSK9 and LDLR are removed via the lysosome pathway, resulting in decreased levels of LDLR and accumulation of LDL in the plasma. However, whether this is the exclusive function of PCSK9 on LDL metabolism was challenged by us; we observed PCSK9 interacted with apolipoprotein B (apoB) and increased apoB production, irrespective of the LDLR.

ApoB is the primary structure protein of LDL particle and it also serves as the ligand for the LDL receptor. There is ample evidence showing that the levels of apoB are a better indicator for heart disease than either total cholesterol or LDL cholesterol levels. We used a second-generation adenoviral vector to overexpress PCSK9 (Ad-PCSK9) in wild-type C57BL/6 and LDLR deficient mice (Ldlr-/- and Ldlr-/-Apobec1-/-). Our study revealed that overexpression of PCSK9 promoted the production and secretion of apoB in the form of very-low density lipoprotein (VLDL), which is the precursor of LDL, in the 3 mouse models studied (C57BL/6J, Ldlr-/-, and Ldlr-/-Apobec1-/-). The increased apoB production in mice was regulated at post-transcriptional levels, since there was no difference in apoB mRNA levels between mice treated with Ad-PCSK9 and control vector Ad-Null. By using pulse-chase experiment on primary hepatocytes, we showed that overexpression of PCSK9 increased the secretion of apoB, independent of LDLR.

In the circulation, we showed that PCSK9 was associated with LDL particles. By using 3 different protein–protein interaction assays of co-immunoprecipitation, mammalian two-hybrid system, and in situ proximity ligation assay, we demonstrated a direct protein–protein interaction between PCSK9 and apoB. The impact of this interaction inhibited the physiological removal process of apoB via autophagosome/lysosome pathway in an LDLR-independent fashion, resulting in increased production and secretion of apoB-containing lipoproteins. The significance of this process was shown in the Pcsk9 knockout mice in the background of Ldlr-/-Apobec1-/- mice (triple knockout mice); in the absence of Pcsk9 (triple knockout mice) the levels of cholesterol, triacylglycerol, and apoB decreased significantly in comparison to that of Ldlr-/-Apobec1-/- mice. Taken together, our study demonstrated a direct intracellular interaction of PCSK9 with apoB, resulting in the inhibition of apoB degradation via the autophagosome/lysosome pathway independent of LDLR. This discovery provides a new concept of the importance of PCSK9 and suggests new approaches for the therapeutic intervention of hyperlipidemia.


PCSK9, apolipoprotein, cholesterol, mouse model, autophgy, atherosclerosis, LDL



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