The haemochromatosis gene Hfe and Kupffer cells control LDL cholesterol homeostasis and impact on atherosclerosis development.

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Imbalances of iron metabolism have been linked to the development of atherosclerosis. However, subjects with hereditary haemochromatosis have a lower prevalence of cardiovascular disease. The aim of our study was to understand the underlying mechanisms by combining data from genome-wide association study analyses in humans, CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing, and loss-of-function studies in mice.Our analysis of the Global Lipids Genetics Consortium (GLGC) dataset revealed that single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the haemochromatosis gene HFE associate with reduced low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) in human plasma. The LDL-C lowering effect could be phenocopied in dyslipidaemic ApoE-/- mice lacking Hfe, which translated into reduced atherosclerosis burden. Mechanistically, we identified HFE as a negative regulator of LDL receptor expression in hepatocytes. Moreover, we uncovered liver-resident Kupffer cells (KCs) as central players in cholesterol homeostasis as they were found to acquire and transfer LDL-derived cholesterol to hepatocytes in an Abca1-dependent fashion, which is controlled by iron availability.Our results disentangle novel regulatory interactions between iron metabolism, KC biology and cholesterol homeostasis which are promising targets for treating dyslipidaemia but also provide a mechanistic explanation for reduced cardiovascular morbidity in subjects with haemochromatosis.


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