Erlins restrict SREBP activation in the ER and regulate cellular cholesterol homeostasis

J Cell Biol. 2013 Nov 11;203(3):427-36. doi: 10.1083/jcb.201305076.


Cellular cholesterol levels are controlled by endoplasmic reticulum (ER) sterol sensing proteins, which include Scap and Insig-1. With cholesterol sufficiency, Insig inhibits the activation of sterol regulatory element binding proteins (SREBPs), key transcription factors for cholesterol and fatty acid biosynthetic genes, by associating with Scap-SREBP complexes to promote their ER retention. Here we show that the multimeric ER proteins erlins-1 and -2 are additional SREBP regulators. Depletion of erlins from cells grown with sterol sufficiency led to canonical activation of SREBPs and their target genes. Moreover, SREBPs, Scap, and Insig-1 were physically associated with erlins. Erlins bound cholesterol with specificity and strong cooperativity and responded to ER cholesterol changes with altered diffusional mobility, suggesting that erlins themselves may be regulated by cholesterol. Together, our results define erlins as novel cholesterol-binding proteins that are directly involved in regulating the SREBP machinery. We speculate that erlins promote stability of the SREBP-Scap-Insig complex and may contribute to the highly cooperative control of this system.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Carrier Proteins / genetics
  • Carrier Proteins / metabolism
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cholesterol / metabolism*
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum / metabolism
  • Enzyme Activation
  • HEK293 Cells
  • HeLa Cells
  • Hep G2 Cells
  • Humans
  • Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / genetics*
  • Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / metabolism
  • Lipid Metabolism
  • Membrane Proteins / genetics*
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism*
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / genetics
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / metabolism*
  • Protein Binding
  • RNA Interference
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • Sterol Regulatory Element Binding Proteins / metabolism*


  • Carrier Proteins
  • ERLIN1 protein, human
  • ERLIN2 protein, human
  • INSIG1 protein, human
  • Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • SREBP cleavage-activating protein
  • Sterol Regulatory Element Binding Proteins
  • Cholesterol