The impact of Niacin on PCSK9 levels in vervet monkeys (Chlorocebus aethiops)
Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) such as ischaemic heart diseases, heart failure and stroke remain a major cause of death globally. Various deep-rooted factors influence CVD development; these include but are not limited to elevated blood lipids, high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes. A considerable number of proteins are involved directly and indirectly in the transport, maintenance and elimination of plasma lipids, including high and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C and LDL-C). There are several mechanisms involved in the removal of LDL particles from systemic circulation. One such mechanism is associated with the gene that encodes proprotein convertase subtilisin/kexin type 9 (PCSK9), which has become an exciting therapeutic target for the reduction of residual risk of CVDs. Currently, statins are the mainstay treatment to reduce LDL-C, and a need exists to further develop more effective LDL-C-lowering drugs that might supplement statins. This study was aimed at contributing to the generation of knowledge regarding the effect of niacin in reducing LDL levels through PCSK9 interaction. The aims/objectives of this study were achieved by utilizing two approaches, which included animal intervention with niacin followed by genetic screening of five prioritized genes involved in cholesterol synthesis and regulation. For animal intervention, 16 vervet monkeys were divided into two groups of eight animals consisting of a control and an experimental (niacin) group. The control group was given a normal standard diet of pre-cooked maize meal throughout the study, while the experimental group received the same diet supplemented with 100 mg/kg of niacin (SR) for 12 weeks. During the niacin intervention, blood was collected at baseline, every four weeks during the treatment period and the end of the washout period. The collected blood was used for biochemical analysis (total cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL-C, and HDL-C) and downstream genetic applications. The second phase included the screening of PCSK9, LDLR, SREBP-2, CETP and APOB-100 using genotyping and gene expression. Niacin administration produced statistically significant increases in plasma HDL-C at fourtime points (T1, T2, T3 and T4), which resulted in an overall increase in plasma HDL-C. Additionally, niacin administration resulted in a slight reduction in LDL-C and total cholesterol levels. Furthermore, the genotyping analysis revealed 13 sequence variants identified in PCSK9, LDLR, SREBP-2, CETP and APOB-100 genes. Five of these variants were predicted to be disease-causing and correlated with gene expression patterns. Three identified PCSK9 variants (H177N, R148S, G635G) were categorized as LOF mutations, and this was supported by a decline in gene expression in animals harbouring these variants. The LDLR also had LOF variants that were the reason for its decreased mRNA expression. Additionally, SREBP-2 proved to be a key mediator of cholesterol pathways. Therefore, the findings of the study conclusively suggest that niacin does increase HDL-C and decrease LDL-C and total cholesterol. Moreover, an interaction between niacin administration and PCSK9 was observed which resulted in decreased gene expression.