Regulation of endoplasmic reticulum cholesterol by plasma membrane cholesterol

J Lipid Res. 1999 Dec;40(12):2264-70.


The abundance of cell cholesterol is governed by multiple regulatory proteins in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) which, in turn, are under the control of the cholesterol in that organelle. But how does ER cholesterol reflect cell (mostly plasma membrane) cholesterol? We have systematically quantitated this relationship for the first time. We found that ER cholesterol in resting human fibroblasts comprised approximately 0.5% of the cell total. The ER pool rose by more than 10-fold in less than 1 h as cell cholesterol was increased by approximately 50% from below to above its physiological value. The curve describing the dependence of ER on plasma membrane cholesterol had a J shape. Its vertex was at the ambient level of cell cholesterol and thus could correspond to a threshold. A variety of class 2 amphiphiles (e.g., U18666A) rapidly reduced ER cholesterol but caused only minor alterations in the J-curve. In contrast, brief exposure of cells to the oxysterol, 25-hydroxycholesterol, elevated and linearized the J-curve, increasing ER cholesterol at all values of cell cholesterol. This finding can explain the rapid action of oxysterols on cholesterol homeostasis. Other functions have also been observed to depend acutely on the level of plasma membrane cholesterol near its physiological level, perhaps reflecting a cholesterol-dependent structural or organizational transition in the bilayer. Such a physical transition could serve as a set-point above which excess plasma membrane cholesterol is transported to the ER where it would signal regulatory proteins to down-regulate its further accumulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • 2-Hydroxypropyl-beta-cyclodextrin
  • Animals
  • Cholesterol / analysis*
  • Cyclodextrins / pharmacology
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum / chemistry*
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum / drug effects
  • Fibroblasts / cytology
  • Humans
  • Hydroxycholesterols / pharmacology
  • Membrane Lipids / pharmacology*
  • Rats
  • Surface-Active Agents / pharmacology
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured
  • beta-Cyclodextrins*


  • Cyclodextrins
  • Hydroxycholesterols
  • Membrane Lipids
  • Surface-Active Agents
  • beta-Cyclodextrins
  • 2-Hydroxypropyl-beta-cyclodextrin
  • 25-hydroxycholesterol
  • Cholesterol