Protein-protein interactions mediate mitochondrial cholesterol transport and steroid biosynthesis

J Biol Chem. 2006 Dec 15;281(50):38879-93. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M608820200. Epub 2006 Oct 18.


Transport of cholesterol into the mitochondria is the rate-determining, hormone-sensitive step in steroid biosynthesis. Here we report that the mechanism underlying mitochondrial cholesterol transport involves the formation of a macromolecular signaling complex composed of the outer mitochondrial membrane translocator protein (TSPO), previously known as peripheral-type benzodiazepine receptor; the TSPO-associated protein PAP7, which binds and brings to mitochondria the regulatory subunit RIalpha of the cAMP-dependent protein kinase (PKARIalpha); and the hormone-induced PKA substrate, steroidogenic acute regulatory protein (StAR). Hormone treatment of MA-10 Leydig cells induced the co-localization of TSPO, PAP7, PKARIalpha, and StAR in mitochondria, visualized by confocal microscopy, and the formation in living cells of a high molecular weight multimeric complex identified using photoactivable amino acids. The hormone-induced recruitment of exogenous TSPO in this complex was found to parallel the increased presence of 7-azi-5alpha-cholestan-3beta-ol in the samples. Co-expression of Tspo, Pap7, PkarIalpha, and Star genes resulted in the stimulation of steroid formation in both steroidogenic MA-10 and non-steroidogenic COS-F2-130 cells that were engineered to metabolize cholesterol. Disruption of these protein-protein interactions and specifically the PKARIalpha-PAP7 and PAP7-TSPO interactions, using PAP7 mutants where the N0 area homologous to dual A-kinase-anchoring protein-1 or the acyl-CoA signature motif were deleted or using the peptide Ht31 known to disrupt the anchoring of PKA, inhibited both basal and hormone-induced steroidogenesis. These results suggest that the initiation of cAMP-induced protein-protein interactions results in the formation of a multivalent scaffold in the outer mitochondrial membrane that mediates the effect of hormones on mitochondrial cholesterol transport and steroidogenesis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Biological Transport
  • Cell Line
  • Cholesterol / metabolism*
  • DNA
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Protein Binding
  • Steroids / biosynthesis*
  • Subcellular Fractions / metabolism


  • Steroids
  • DNA
  • Cholesterol