Tumour are characterised by a high content of cholesteryl esters (CEs) stored in lipid droplets purported to be due to a high rate of intracellular esterification of cholesterol. To verify whether and which pathways involved in CE accumulation are essential in tumour proliferation, the effect of CE deprivation, from both exogenous and endogenous sources, on CEM-CCRF cells was investigated. Cholesterol synthesis, esterification and content, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) binding and high-density lipoprotein (HDL)-CE uptake were evaluated in cultured in both conventional and delipidated bovine serum with or without oleic or linoleic acids, cholesteryl oleate, LDL and HDL. High content of CEs in lipid droplets in this cell line was due to esterification of both newly synthesised cholesterol and that obtained from hydrolysis of LDL; moreover, a significant amount of CE was derived from HDL-CE uptake. Cell proliferation was slightly affected by either acute or chronic treatment up to 400 μM with Sz-58035, an acyl-cholesteryl cholesterol esterification inhibitor (ACAT); although when the enzyme activity was continuously inhibited, CE content in lipid droplets was significantly higher than those in control cells. In these cells, analysis of intracellular and medium CEs revealed a profile reflecting the characteristics of bovine serum, suggesting a plasma origin of CE molecules. Cell proliferation arrest in delipidated medium was almost completely prevented in the first 72 h by LDL or HDL, although in subsequent cultures with LDL, it manifested an increasing mortality rate. This study suggests that high content of CEs in CEM-CCRF is mainly derived from plasma lipoproteins and that part of CEs stored in lipid droplets are obtained after being taken up from HDL. This route appears to be up-regulated according to cell requirements and involved in low levels of c-HDL during cancer. Moreover, the dependence of tumour cells on a source of lipoprotein provides a novel impetus in developing therapeutic strategies for use in the treatment of some tumours.
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