Lipid droplets are intracellular energy storage organelles composed of a hydrophobic core of neutral lipid, surrounded by a monolayer of phospholipid and a diverse array of proteins. The function of the vast majority of these proteins with regard to the formation and/or turnover of lipid droplets is unknown. Our laboratory was the first to report that microsomal triglyceride transfer protein (MTP), a lipid transfer protein essential for the assembly of triglyceride-rich lipoproteins, was expressed in adipose tissue of humans and mice. In addition, our studies suggested that MTP was associated with lipid droplets in both brown and white fat. Our observations led us to hypothesize that MTP plays a key role in lipid droplet formation and/or turnover. The objective of these studies was to gain insight into the function of MTP in adipocytes. Using molecular, biochemical, and morphologic approaches we have shown: 1) MTP protein levels increase nearly five-fold as T3-L1 cells differentiate into adipocytes. 2) As 3T3-L1 cells undergo differentiation, MTP moves from the juxtanuclear region of the cell to the surface of lipid droplets. MTP and perilipin 2, a major lipid droplet surface protein, are found on the same droplets; however, MTP does not co-localize with perilipin 2. 3) Inhibition of MTP activity has no effect on the movement of triglyceride out of the cell either as a lipid complex or via lipolysis. 4) MTP is found associated with lipid droplets within hepatocytes from human fatty livers, suggesting that association of MTP with lipid droplets is not restricted to adipocytes. In summary, our data demonstrate that MTP is a lipid droplet-associated protein. Its location on the surface of the droplet in adipocytes and hepatocytes, coupled with its known function as a lipid transfer protein and its increased expression during adipocyte differentiation suggest a role in lipid droplet biology.
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