Cholesterol plays a crucial role in cell membranes, and has been implicated in the assembly and maintenance of sphingolipid-rich rafts. We have examined the cholesterol-dependence of model rafts (sphingomyelin-rich domains) in supported lipid monolayers and bilayers using atomic force microscopy. Sphingomyelin-rich domains were observed in lipid monolayers in the absence and presence of cholesterol, except at high cholesterol concentrations, when separate domains were suppressed. The effect of manipulating cholesterol levels on the behavior of these sphingomyelin-rich domains in bilayers was observed in real time. Depletion of cholesterol resulted in dissolution of the model lipid rafts, whereas cholesterol addition resulted in an increased size of the sphingomyelin-rich domains and eventually the formation of a single raftlike lipid phase. Cholesterol colocalization with sphingomyelin-rich domains was confirmed using the sterol binding agent filipin.