Apolipoprotein L1 (APOL1) genetic variants G1 and G2, compared to the common allele G0, are major risk factors for non-diabetic kidney disease in African descent populations. APOL1 is a minor protein component of HDL, as well as being expressed in podocytes and vascular cells. Reverse cholesterol transport involves the transport of cholesterol to HDL by cellular ATP-binding cassette; ABCA1 and ABCG1 with subsequent delivery from peripheral tissues to the liver. With impaired reverse cholesterol transport, lipid accumulation occurs and macrophages morphologically transform into foam cells, releasing inflammatory factors. We asked whether the APOL1 risk variants alter peripheral cholesterol metabolism and specifically affect macrophage cholesterol efflux. Tissues and bone marrow (BM)-derived monocytes were isolated from wild-type mice (WT) and from BAC/APOL1 transgenic (APOL1-G0, APOL1-G1, and APOL1-G2) mice, which carry a bacterial artificial chromosome that contains the human APOL1 genomic region. Monocytes were differentiated into macrophages using M-CSF, and then polarized into M1 and M2 macrophages. Cholesterol content, cholesterol efflux, and ABCA1 and ABCG1 mRNA expression were measured. Kidney, spleen, and bone marrow-derived macrophages from APOL1-G1 and -G2 mice showed increased cholesterol accumulation and decreased ABCA1 and ABCG1 mRNA levels. BM-derived macrophages from APOL1-G1 and -G2 mice showed significantly reduced cholesterol efflux compared to WT or APOL1-G0 macrophages. Taken together, the evidence suggests that APOL1-G1 and -G2 risk variants impaired reverse cholesterol transport through decreased expression of cholesterol efflux transporters suggesting a possible mechanism to promote macrophage foam cell formation, driving inflammation in the glomerulus and renal interstitium.
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