• Cholesterol Homeostasis: An In Silico Investigation into How Aging Disrupts Its Key Hepatic Regulatory Mechanisms

      Morgan, Amy; Mc Auley, Mark; University of Chester
      The dysregulation of intracellular cholesterol homeostasis is associated with several age-related diseases, most notably cardiovascular disease (CVD). Research in this area has benefitted from using computational modelling to study the inherent complexity associated with the regulation of this system. In addition to facilitating hypothesis exploration, the utility of modelling lies in its ability to represent an array of rate limiting enzymatic reactions, together with multiple feedback loops, which collectively define the dynamics of cholesterol homeostasis. However, to date no model has specifically investigated the effects aging has on this system. This work addresses this shortcoming by explicitly focusing on the impact of aging on hepatic intracellular cholesterol homeostasis. The model was used to investigate the experimental findings that reactive oxygen species induce the total activation of 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl-coenzyme A (HMG-CoA) reductase (HMGCR). Moreover, the model explored the impact of an age-related decrease in hepatic acetyl-CoA acetyltransferase 2 (ACAT2). The model suggested that an increase in the activity of HMGCR does not have as significant an impact on cholesterol homeostasis as a decrease in hepatic ACAT2 activity. According to the model, a decrease in the activity of hepatic ACAT2 raises free cholesterol (FC) and decreases low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) levels. Increased acetyl CoA synthesis resulted in a reduction in the number of hepatic low-density lipoprotein receptors, and increased LDL-C, FC, and cholesterol esters. The rise in LDL-C was restricted by elevated hepatic FC accumulation. Taken together these findings have important implications for healthspan. This is because emerging clinical data suggest hepatic FC accumulation is relevant to the pathogenesis of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which is associated with an increased risk of CVD. These pathophysiological changes could, in part, help to explain the phenomenon of increased mortality associated with low levels of LDL-C which have been observed in certain studies involving the oldest old (≥ 85 years).