Theses Doctoral

Investigating the Role of TM6SF2 in Lipid Metabolism

Gibeley, Sarah B.

A nonsynonymous, loss of function variant (rs58542926, E167K) located in the gene encoding TM6SF2 was identified in multiple genetic association studies as significantly correlating with increased risk for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and decreased risk for hyperlipidemia. Given the pivotal role that lipoproteins play at the juncture of these two conditions, researchers hypothesize that the ER-membrane spanning TM6SF2 protein regulates the degree of lipidation of VLDL particles synthesized in the liver. However, not all published data supports this theory and contradictions regarding many aspects of the mechanistic function of TM6SF2 remain. The inconsistencies observed in the literature are in part due to drawbacks of the models used to study TM6SF2 activity; thus, there is an obvious need for an improved hepatocyte model to better understand how TM6SF2 impacts lipid metabolism.To address this need, we present an optimized protocol for the differentiation of inducible pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) into hepatocyte-like cells (HLCs), created in collaboration with the Leong Lab. We provide extensive validation of HLC maturity and hepatic functionality, including prolonged albumin secretion, evidence of membrane polarity, and cytochrome P450 induction. We also demonstrate that HLCs express proteins essential for lipoprotein metabolism, secrete authentic VLDL particles, and respond to metabolic perturbations, supporting their value for modeling hepatosteatosis and VLDL metabolism in vitro.

To investigate the effect of TM6SF2 variant expression on hepatic lipid metabolism, we produced HLCs derived from 4 homozygous TM6SF2-carrier individuals (KK) and 4 age- and sex-matched unaffected siblings (EE). We describe the variability in differentiation efficiency that we observed in our sibling-matched HLC model and present the gene editing strategy we developed using CRISPR/Cas9 technology and transgene-induced expression to create isogenic iPSCs differing only in their TM6SF2 genotype [EE, KK, or knockout (KO)].

After extensive confirmation of successful gene editing, we explore the effect of TM6SF2 on lipid metabolism in the edited iPSCs. RNA-sequencing and qPCR validation reveal that the Sterol Regulatory Element Binding Protein 2 (SREBP2)-mediated transcriptional program regulating cholesterol synthesis is significantly increased in TM6SF2 KO iPSCs. However, lipidomics analysis and de novo lipogenesis functional assays show that free cholesterol (FC) levels are unchanged. In TM6SF2 KO iPSCs, we further show a reduction in the activities of Acyl-Coenzyme A: Cholesterol Acyltransferase 1 (ACAT1) and Phosphatidylserine Synthase 1 (PSS1), two enzymes that display optimal function when specifically localized to cholesterol enriched ER lipid raft-like domains. Our findings suggest that TM6SF2 may impact cholesterol localization within ER subdomains, which regulate expression levels of cholesterol synthesis genes and activities of ER lipid-raft associated enzymes.

In summary, we present here methodological approaches for generating multiple cell culture models in which to investigate the function of TM6SF2, as well as novel evidence supporting a role for TM6SF2 in iPSC cholesterol metabolism.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Nutritional and Metabolic Biology
Thesis Advisors
Ginsberg, Henry N.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 21, 2022