Melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1-R) is widely expressed in melanocytes and leukocytes and is thus strongly implicated in the regulation of skin pigmentation and inflammation. MC1-R has also been found in the rat and human liver, but its functional role has remained elusive. We hypothesized that MC1-R is functionally active in the liver and involved in the regulation of cholesterol and bile acid metabolism. We generated hepatocyte-specific MC1-R knock-out (Mc1r LKO) mice and phenotyped the mouse model for lipid profiles, liver histology, and bile acid levels. Mc1r LKO mice had significantly increased liver weight, which was accompanied by elevated levels of total cholesterol and triglycerides in the liver as well as in the plasma. These mice demonstrated also enhanced liver fibrosis and a disturbance in bile acid metabolism as evidenced by markedly reduced bile acid levels in the plasma and feces. Mechanistically, using HepG2 cells as an in vitro model, we found that selective activation of MC1-R in HepG2 cells reduced cellular cholesterol content and enhanced uptake of low-and high-density lipoprotein particles via a cAMP-independent mechanism. In conclusion, the present results demonstrate that MC1-R signaling in hepatocytes regulates cholesterol and bile acid metabolism and its deficiency leads to hypercholesterolemia and enhanced lipid accumulation and fibrosis in the liver.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- General Neuroscience
- General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
- General Immunology and Microbiology