Differential effects of ergosterol and cholesterol on Cdk1 activation and SRE-driven transcription

Eur J Biochem. 2002 Mar;269(6):1761-71. doi: 10.1046/j.1432-1327.2002.02822.x.


Cholesterol is essential for cell growth and division, but whether this is just a consequence of its use in membrane formation or whether it also elicits regulatory actions in cell cycle machinery remains to be established. Here, we report on the specificity of this action of cholesterol in human cells by comparing its effects with those of ergosterol, a yeast sterol structurally similar to cholesterol. Inhibition of cholesterol synthesis by means of SKF 104976 in cells incubated in a cholesterol-free medium resulted in cell proliferation inhibition and cell cycle arrest at G2/M phase. These effects were abrogated by cholesterol added to the medium but not by ergosterol, despite that the latter was used by human cells and exerted similar homeostatic actions, as the regulation of the transcription of an SRE-driven gene construct. In contrast to cholesterol, ergosterol was unable to induce cyclin B1 expression, to activate Cdk1 and to resume cell cycle in cells previously arrested at G2. This lack of effect was not due to cytotoxicity, as cells exposed to ergosterol remained viable and, upon supplementing with UCN-01, an activator of Cdk1, they progressed through mitosis. However, in the presence of suboptimal concentrations of cholesterol, ergosterol exerted synergistic effects on cell proliferation. This is interpreted on the basis of the differential action of these sterols, ergosterol contributing to cell membrane formation and cholesterol being required for Cdk1 activation. In summary, the action of cholesterol on G2 traversal is highly specific and exerted through a mechanism different to that used for cholesterol homeostasis, reinforcing the concept that cholesterol is a specific regulator of cell cycle progression in human cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Base Sequence
  • CDC2 Protein Kinase / metabolism*
  • Cell Cycle / drug effects
  • Cell Division / drug effects
  • Cell Line
  • Cholesterol / biosynthesis
  • Cholesterol / pharmacology*
  • DNA Primers
  • Enzyme Activation
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Ergosterol / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Kinetics
  • Lanosterol / analogs & derivatives*
  • Lanosterol / pharmacology
  • Transcription, Genetic / drug effects*


  • DNA Primers
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • SK&F 104976
  • Lanosterol
  • Cholesterol
  • CDC2 Protein Kinase
  • Ergosterol