The discovery of autosomal dominant hypercholesterolemic patients with mutations in the PCSK9 gene, encoding the proprotein convertase NARC-1, resulting in the missense mutations suggested a role in low density lipoprotein (LDL) metabolism. We show that the endoplasmic reticulum-localized proNARC-1 to NARC-1 zymogen conversion is Ca2+-independent and that within the zymogen autocatalytic processing site SSVFAQ [downward arrow]SIP Val at P4 and Pro at P3' are critical. The S127R and D374Y mutations result in approximately 50-60% and>> or =98% decrease in zymogen processing, respectively. In contrast, the double [D374Y + N157K], F216L, and R218S natural mutants resulted in normal zymogen processing. The cell surface LDL receptor (LDLR) levels are reduced by 35% in lymphoblasts of S127R patients. The LDLR levels are also reduced in stable HepG2 cells overexpressing NARC-1 or its natural mutant S127R, and this reduction is abrogated in the presence of 5 mm ammonium chloride, suggesting that overexpression of NARC-1 increases the turnover rate of the LDLR. Adenoviral expression of wild type human NARC-1 in mice resulted in a maximal approximately 9-fold increase in circulating LDL cholesterol, while in LDLR-/- mice a delayed approximately 2-fold increase in LDL cholesterol was observed. In conclusion, NARC-1 seems to affect both the level of LDLR and that of circulating apoB-containing lipoproteins in an LDLR-dependent and -independent fashion.