Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB) acquisition and utilization of nutrients within the host cell is poorly understood, although it has been hypothesized that host lipids probably play an important role in MTB survival. Cholesterol has recently been identified as an important lipid for mycobacterial infection. The mce4 transport system is required for cholesterol import into bacterial cells, and deletion of mce4 locus resulted in severe attenuation in a chronic mouse model of infection. However, it has remained unclear what additional bacterial functions were required for utilization of this sterol. We have found that the igr locus, which was previously found essential for intracellular growth and virulence of MTB, is required for cholesterol metabolism: igr-deficient bacteria cannot grow using cholesterol as a primary carbon source. The growth-inhibitory effect of cholesterol in vitro depends on cholesterol import, as the delta igr mutant growth defect during the early phase of disease is completely suppressed by mutating mce4, implicating cholesterol intoxication as the primary mechanism of attenuation. We conclude that M. tuberculosis metabolizes cholesterol throughout the course of infection, and that degradation of this sterol is crucial for bacterial persistence.