Hypercholesterolemic rabbit beta-VLDL and human LDL are both internalized by mouse peritoneal macrophages by receptor-mediated endocytosis. However, only beta-VLDL (which binds to the cells with a much higher affinity than LDL) markedly stimulates acyl-CoA/cholesterol acyl transferase (ACAT) and induces foam cell formation in these cells. As an initial step to test whether the two lipoproteins might be targeted to different organelles (which might differ in their ability to deliver cholesterol to microsomal ACAT), we studied the endocytic pathways of beta-VLDL and LDL. Lipoproteins were labeled with the non-transferable fluorescent label, DiI. When the macrophages were incubated with DiI-LDL for 10 min at 37 degrees C, the fluorescence was concentrated near the center of the cell both in heavily labeled vesicles and in a diffuse pattern. The pattern with DiI-beta-VLDL was quite different: an array of bright vesicles throughout the cytoplasm was the predominant feature. Differences in distribution were seen as early as 2 min of incubation and persisted throughout a 10-min chase period. By using a procedure in which photobleaching of DiI fluorescence converts diaminobenzidine into an electron-dense marker, we were able to identify at the ultrastructural level vesicles containing electron-dense material in cells incubated with DiI-beta-VLDL. Human E2/E2 beta-VLDL (from a patient with familial dysbetalipoproteinemia), which has a binding affinity and ACAT-stimulatory potential similar to LDL, gave a pattern of fluorescence virtually identical to LDL. Pulse-chase studies with 125I-labeled and [3H]cholesteryl ester-labeled lipoproteins disclosed that both protein degradation and cholesteryl ester hydrolysis were markedly retarded in beta-VLDL compared with LDL. Thus, in mouse peritoneal macrophages, endocytosed beta-VLDL appears in a distinct set of widely-distributed vesicles not seen with LDL (or with E2-beta-VLDL) and, compared with LDL, has a markedly diminished rate of protein degradation and cholesteryl ester hydrolysis. The differential routing of LDL and beta-VLDL may provide a mechanism for differences in ACAT-stimulatory potential between the two lipoproteins.

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