Background PCSK9 modulates the uptake of circulating lipids through a range of receptors, including the low-density lipoprotein receptor (LDLR) and CD36. In the kidney, CD36 is known to contribute to renal injury through pro-inflammatory and -fibrotic pathways. In this study, we sought to investigate the role of PCSK9 in modulating renal lipid accumulation and injury through CD36 using a high fat diet (HFD)-induced murine model.
Methods The effect of PCSK9 on the expression of CD36 and intracellular accumulation of lipid was examined in cultured renal cells and in the kidneys of male C57BL/6J mice. The effect of these findings was subsequently explored in a model of HFD-induced renal injury in Pcsk9−/− and Pcsk9+/+ littermate control mice on a C57BL/6J background.
Results In the absence of PCSK9, we observed heightened CD36 expression levels, which increased free fatty acid (FFA) uptake in cultured renal tubular cells. As a result, PCSK9 deficiency was associated with an increase in long-chain saturated FFA-induced ER stress. Consistent with these observations, Pcsk9−/− mice fed a HFD displayed elevated ER stress, inflammation, fibrosis, and renal injury relative to HFD-fed control mice. In contrast to Pcsk9−/− mice, pretreatment of WT C57BL/6J mice with evolocumab, an anti-PCSK9 monoclonal antibody (mAb) that binds to and inhibits the function of circulating PCSK9, protected against HFD-induced renal injury in association with reducing cell surface CD36 expression on renal epithelia.
Conclusions We report that circulating PCSK9 modulates renal lipid uptake in a manner dependent on renal CD36. In the context of increased dietary fat consumption, the absence of circulating PCSK9 may promote renal lipid accumulation and subsequent renal injury. However, although the administration of evolocumab blocks the interaction of PCSK9 with the LDLR, this evolocumab/PCSK9 complex can still bind CD36, thereby protecting against HFD-induced renal lipotoxicity.