Differential effect of cholesterol and its biosynthetic precursors on membrane dipole potential

Biophys J. 2012 Apr 4;102(7):1561-9. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2012.03.004. Epub 2012 Apr 3.


Dipole potential is the potential difference within the membrane bilayer, which originates due to the nonrandom arrangement of lipid dipoles and water molecules at the membrane interface. Cholesterol, a representative sterol in higher eukaryotic membranes, is known to increase membrane dipole potential. In this work, we explored the effects of immediate (7-DHC and desmosterol) and evolutionary (ergosterol) precursors of cholesterol on membrane dipole potential, monitored by the dual wavelength ratiometric approach utilizing the probe di-8-ANEPPS. Our results show that the effect of these precursors on membrane dipole potential is very different from that observed with cholesterol, although the structural differences among them are subtle. These results assume relevance, since accumulation of cholesterol precursors due to defective cholesterol biosynthesis has been reported to result in several inherited metabolic disorders such as the Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome. Interestingly, cholesterol (and its precursors) has a negligible effect on dipole potential in polyunsaturated membranes. We interpret these results in terms of noncanonical orientation of cholesterol in these membranes. Our results constitute the first report on the effect of biosynthetic and evolutionary precursors of cholesterol on dipole potential, and imply that a subtle change in sterol structure can significantly alter the dipolar field at the membrane interface.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cholesterol / biosynthesis*
  • Cholesterol / metabolism*
  • Dehydrocholesterols / metabolism
  • Desmosterol / metabolism
  • Ergosterol / metabolism
  • Lipid Bilayers / metabolism
  • Membrane Potentials*
  • Phosphatidylcholines / metabolism
  • Pyridinium Compounds / metabolism
  • Water / metabolism


  • 1-(3-sulfonatopropyl)-4-(beta-(2-(di-n-octylamino)-6-naphthyl)vinyl)pyridinium betaine
  • Dehydrocholesterols
  • Lipid Bilayers
  • Phosphatidylcholines
  • Pyridinium Compounds
  • Water
  • Desmosterol
  • Cholesterol
  • 7-dehydrocholesterol
  • 1-palmitoyl-2-oleoylphosphatidylcholine
  • Ergosterol