Loss-of-function PCSK9 mutants evade the unfolded protein response sensor GRP78 and fail to induce endoplasmic reticulum stress when retained
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The proprotein convertase subtilisin/kexin type-9 (PCSK9) plays a central role in cardiovascular disease (CVD) by degrading hepatic low-density lipoprotein receptor (LDLR). As such, loss-of-function (LOF) PCSK9 variants that fail to exit the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) increase hepatic LDLR levels and lower the risk of developing CVD. The retention of misfolded protein in the ER can cause ER stress and activate the unfolded protein response (UPR). In this study, we investigated whether a variety of LOF PCSK9 variants that are retained in the ER can cause ER stress and hepatic cytotoxicity. Although overexpression of these PCSK9 variants caused an accumulation in the ER of hepatocytes, UPR activation or apoptosis was not observed. Furthermore, ER retention of endogenous PCSK9 via splice switching also failed to induce the UPR. Consistent with these in vitro studies, overexpression of PCSK9 in the livers of mice had no impact on UPR activation. To elucidate the cellular mechanism to explain these surprising findings, we observed that the 94-kDa glucose-regulated protein (GRP94) sequesters PCSK9 away from the 78-kDa glucose-regulated protein (GRP78), the major activator of the UPR. As a result, GRP94 knockdown increased the stability of GRP78-PCSK9 complex and resulted in UPR activation following overexpression of ER-retained PCSK9 variants relative to WT secreted controls. Given that overexpression of these LOF PCSK9 variants does not cause UPR activation under normal homeostatic conditions, therapeutic strategies aimed at blocking the autocatalytic cleavage of PCSK9 in the ER represent a viable strategy for reducing circulating PCSK9.
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