Membrane cholesterol modulates serotonin transporter activity

Biochemistry. 2001 Sep 4;40(35):10507-13. doi: 10.1021/bi010730z.


The synaptic actions of the neurotransmitter serotonin are terminated by a selective high-affinity reuptake mediated by the serotonin transporter (SERT). To gain insight into the modulation of the functional properties of this integral membrane protein by cholesterol, a main component of the lipid bilayer, we stably expressed the rat SERT in human embryonic kidney 293 cells and, upon altering the cholesterol content of these cells by different means, analyzed SERT activity. Depletion of the level of membrane cholesterol by treatment with either the cholesterol chelating agent methyl-beta-cyclodextrin (MbetaCD), cholesterol oxidase, or the cholesterol-binding fluorochrome filipin resulted in a decrease in SERT activity due to both a loss of affinity of substrate and ligand binding and a concomitant reduction of the maximal transport rate. In cholesterol-depleted membranes, cholesterol levels could be restored to those found in untreated membranes by incubation of the membranes with an MbetaCD-cholesterol complex, which correlated with a reversal of the cholesterol depletion-mediated decrease in the level of high-affinity binding. This was not the case when other steroids, such as ergosterol, 5-cholestene, or pregnenolone, were substituted into cholesterol-depleted membranes. These results suggest that membrane cholesterol modulates the functional properties of the SERT by specific molecular interactions which are needed to stabilize the transporter in its optimally active form.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Carrier Proteins / metabolism*
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Membrane / drug effects
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism*
  • Cholesterol / metabolism*
  • Cholesterol Oxidase / metabolism
  • Citalopram / pharmacology
  • Cyclodextrins / metabolism
  • Filipin / metabolism
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / metabolism*
  • Membrane Transport Proteins*
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins*
  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors / metabolism
  • Serotonin / metabolism
  • Serotonin Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins
  • beta-Cyclodextrins*


  • Carrier Proteins
  • Cyclodextrins
  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • Membrane Transport Proteins
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Serotonin Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors
  • beta-Cyclodextrins
  • methyl-beta-cyclodextrin
  • Citalopram
  • Serotonin
  • Filipin
  • Cholesterol
  • Cholesterol Oxidase