Circulating factors have been implicated in the pathogenesis of minimal change disease (MCD), and may have direct effects on cholesterol metabolism. This study investigated the pathogenesis of hypercholesterolemia in an IL-13 overexpression rat model of MCD prior to the onset of proteinuria, so as to establish the direct contribution of IL-13, especially with regard to hepatic cholesterol handling. In this model of MCD, the temporal relationship between hypercholesterolemia and proteinuria was first identified. Plasma proprotein convertase subtilisin/kexin type 9 (Pcsk9) and liver ATP-binding cassette sub-family G member 5 (Abcg5) were measured using ELISA. Liver Ldlr and liver X receptor alpha (Lxra) were quantified with Western blot. Abcg5-mediated cholesterol efflux in IL-13-stimulated rat primary hepatocytes was measured using taurocholate as cholesterol acceptor. The role of Lxra was validated using a luciferase assay in Lxre-luciferase-transfected IL-13-stimulated hepatocytes. IL-13-transfected rats developed hypercholesterolemia prior to proteinuria, with 35% of rats hypercholesterolemic but only 11% proteinuric by Day 20 (P = 0.04). These pre-proteinuric hypercholesterolemic rats showed elevations in total and LDL-cholesterol, but not hypertriglyceridemia or hepatic steatosis. The hypercholesterolemia was associated with increased hepatic Pcsk9 synthesis and enhanced circulating Pcsk9 levels, which correlated strongly with plasma total cholesterol (r = 0.73, P<0.001). The hypercholesterolemia was also contributed by decreased Abcg5 expression and activity, due to reduced Lxra expression. Lxra expression correlated with plasma total cholesterol levels (r = −0.52, P = 0.01), and overexpression of pLxra in rat hepatocytes abrogated the IL-13-mediated down-regulation of Lxre-driven gene expression. In conclusion, we have shown that IL-13 induced changes in hepatic cholesterol handling in a cytokine-induced rat model of MCD, resulting in hypercholesterolemia which can precede the onset of proteinuria.

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