KEY POINTS: Female adult hyperbilirubinaemic (Gunn) rats demonstrated lower circulating cholesterol corroborating human studies that report a negative association between bilirubin and cholesterol concentrations. Furthermore, female Gunn rats had elevated sterol excretion creating a negative intestinal sterol balance that was compensated for by elevated cholesterol synthesis and increased hepatic LDL receptor expression. Therefore, elevated LDL receptor expression potentially leads to reduced circulating cholesterol levels in female Gunn rats providing an explanation for the hypocholesterolaemia observed in humans with elevated bilirubin levels. This study also reports a novel interaction of sex with the hyperbilirubinaemic phenotype on sterol metabolism because changes were only reported in females and not in male Gunn rats. Future studies are required to further evaluate the sexual dimorphism of this response and whether similar findings occur in females with benign unconjugated hyperbilirubinaemia (Gilbert's syndrome).
ABSTRACT: Background Circulating bilirubin is associated with reduced serum cholesterol concentrations in humans and in hyperbilirubinaemic Gunn rats. However, mechanisms contributing to hypocholesterolaemia remain unknown. Therefore, this study aimed to investigate cholesterol synthesis, transport, and excretion in mutant Gunn rats. Methods Adult Gunn and control rats were assessed for daily faecal sterol excretion using metabolic cages and water was supplemented with [1-13 C]-acetate to determine cholesterol synthesis. Bile was collected to measure biliary lipid secretion. Serum and liver were collected for biochemical analysis and for gene/protein expression using RT-qPCR and western blot, respectively. Additionally, serum was collected and analysed from juvenile rats. Results A significant interaction of sex, age, and phenotype on circulating lipids was found with adult female Gunn rats reporting significantly lower cholesterol and phospholipids. Female Gunn rats also demonstrated elevated cholesterol synthesis, greater biliary lipid secretion, and increased total faecal cholesterol and bile acid excretion. Furthermore, they possessed increased hepatic LDL receptor and SREBP2 expression. In contrast, there was no changes to sterol metabolism in adult male Gunn rats. Conclusions This is the first study to demonstrate elevated faecal sterol excretion in female hyperbilirubinaemic Gunn rats. Increased sterol excretion creates a negative intestinal sterol balance that is compensated for by increased cholesterol synthesis and LDL receptor expression. Therefore, reduced circulating cholesterol is potentially caused by increased hepatic uptake via the LDL receptor. Future studies are required to further evaluate the sexual dimorphism of this response and whether similar findings occur in females with benign unconjugated hyperbilirubinaemia (Gilbert's syndrome). Abstract figure legend This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.