Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Pharmacology and Nutritional Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Changcheng Zhou

Second Advisor

Dr. Nancy Webb


Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death worldwide and is partially attributed to perturbations in lipid metabolism. Xenobiotics, such as pharmaceutical drugs and environmental chemicals, have been associated with increased risk of CVD in multiple large-scale human population studies, but the underlying mechanisms remain poorly defined. We and others have identified several xenobiotics as potent agonists for the pregnane X receptor (PXR), a nuclear receptor that can be activated by numerous drugs as well as environmental and dietary chemicals. However, the role of PXR in mediating the pathophysiological effects of xenobiotic exposure in humans and animals remains elusive.

The work herein identified several widely used pharmaceutical agents and endocrine disrupting chemicals as PXR-selective agonists such as drugs involved in HIV therapy and phthalates/phthalate substitutes, respectively. We investigated the role of amprenavir, an HIV protease inhibitor, and tributyl citrate, a phthalate substitute, on PXR-dependent alterations in lipoprotein metabolism. Acute exposure with either xenobiotic in mice elicited increases in the proatherogenic LDL-cholesterol levels in a PXR-dependent manner. PXR activation significantly induced expression of genes involved in intestinal lipid metabolism. Further, we went on to identify the intestinal cholesterol transporter, Niemann-Pick C1-Like 1 (NPC1L1), as a direct PXR-target gene. PXR activation also stimulated cholesterol uptake in both murine and human intestinal cells. Moreover, we provide evidence that the microsomal triglyceride transfer protein (MTP) may be a direct PXR-target gene. Taken together, these findings provide critical mechanistic insight into the role of xenobiotic-mediated PXR activation on lipid homeostasis and demonstrate a potential role of PXR in mediating adverse effects of xenobiotics on CVD risk in humans.

In addition to PXR signaling, we investigated the role of IκB kinase β (IKKβ), a central coordinator of inflammation, in adipocyte progenitor cells. Targeting IKKβ in adipose progenitor cells resulted in decreased high fat diet (HFD)-elicited adipogenesis, while protecting mice from inflammation and associated insulin resistance. Consistently, we discovered that IKKβ inhibition by antisense oligonucleotides ablated HFD-induced adiposity, while protecting mice against associated metabolic disorders. In conclusion, targeting IKKβ with antisense therapy may present as a novel therapeutic approach to combat obesity and metabolic dysfunctions.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)