Clinical interventions that accelerate conversion of cholesterol to bile acids reduce circulating low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol concentrations. The initial and rate-limiting step in the bile acid biosynthetic pathway is catalyzed by hepatic cholesterol 7 alpha-hydroxylase. To examine the effects of transient primary overexpression of this enzyme on sterol metabolism and lipoprotein transport, we constructed a recombinant adenovirus in which a cDNA encoding rat 7 alpha-hydroxylase is expressed from the human cytomegalovirus immediate-early promoter (AdCMV7 alpha). Syrian hamsters administered AdCMV7 alpha intravenously accumulated transgene-specific mRNA in the liver and demonstrated a dose-dependent increase in hepatic microsomal 7 alpha-hydroxylase activity. The increased conversion of cholesterol to bile acids resulted in a compensatory increase in hepatic cholesterol synthesis. In addition, overexpression of 7 alpha-hydroxylase reduced the rate of LDL cholesterol entry into the plasma space and, in animals maintained on a Western-type diet, restored hepatic LDL receptor expression. As a consequence, plasma LDL concentrations fell by approximately 60% in animals maintained on control diet and by approximately 75% in animals consuming a Western-type diet. Plasma high density lipoprotein cholesterol levels were reduced to a lesser degree. These results demonstrate that transient upregulation of bile acid synthesis by direct transfer of a 7 alpha-hydroxylase gene favorably alters circulating lipoprotein profiles and suggest one potential molecular target for genetic strategies aimed at reducing cardiovascular risk
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