Peripheral-type benzodiazepine receptor: structure and function of a cholesterol-binding protein in steroid and bile acid biosynthesis

Steroids. 2003 Sep;68(7-8):569-85. doi: 10.1016/s0039-128x(03)00101-6.


Cholesterol transport from the outer to the inner mitochondrial membrane is the rate-determining step in steroid and bile acid biosyntheses. Biochemical, pharmacological and molecular studies have demonstrated that the peripheral-type benzodiazepine receptor (PBR) is a five transmembrane domain mitochondrial protein involved in the regulation of cholesterol transport. PBR gene disruption in Leydig cells completely blocked cholesterol transport into mitochondria and steroid formation, while PBR expression in bacteria, devoid of endogenous PBR and cholesterol, induced cholesterol uptake and transport. Molecular modeling of PBR suggested that cholesterol might cross the membrane through the five helices of the receptor and that synthetic and endogenous ligands might bind to common sites in the cytoplasmic loops. A cholesterol recognition/interaction amino acid consensus (CRAC) sequence in the cytoplasmic carboxy-terminus of the PBR was identified by mutagenesis studies. In vitro reconstitution of PBR into proteoliposomes demonstrated that PBR binds both drug ligands and cholesterol with high affinity. In vivo polymeric forms of PBR were observed and polymer formation was reproduced in vitro, using recombinant PBR protein reconstituted into proteoliposomes, associated with an increase in drug ligand binding and reduction of cholesterol-binding capacity. This suggests that the various polymeric states of PBR might be part of a cycle mediating cholesterol uptake and release into the mitochondria, with PBR functioning as a cholesterol exchanger against steroid product(s) arising from cytochrome P450 action. Taking into account the widespread presence of PBR in many tissues, a more general role of PBR in intracellular cholesterol transport and compartmentalization might be considered.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bile Acids and Salts / biosynthesis
  • Carrier Proteins / chemistry
  • Carrier Proteins / metabolism
  • Cholesterol / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Receptors, GABA-A / chemistry*
  • Receptors, GABA-A / metabolism
  • Receptors, GABA-A / physiology*
  • Steroids / biosynthesis


  • Bile Acids and Salts
  • Carrier Proteins
  • Receptors, GABA-A
  • Steroids
  • Cholesterol