Steroids, essential for mammalian survival, are initiated by cholesterol transport by steroidogenic acute regulatory protein (StAR). Appropriate protein folding is an essential requirement of activity. Endoplasmic reticulum (ER) chaperones assist in folding of cytoplasmic proteins, whereas mitochondrial chaperones fold only mitochondrial proteins. We show that glucose regulatory protein 78 (GRP78), a master ER chaperone, is also present at the mitochondria-associated ER membrane (MAM), where it folds StAR for delivery to the outer mitochondrial membrane. StAR expression and activity are drastically reduced following GRP78 knockdown. StAR folding starts at the MAM region; thus, its cholesterol fostering capacity is regulated by GRP78 long before StAR reaches the mitochondria. In summary, GRP78 is an acute regulator of steroidogenesis at the MAM, regulating the intermediate folding of StAR that is crucial for its activity.
Keywords: GRP78; StAR; Steroids; mitochondria; mitochondria-associated ER membrane; mitochondrial chaperones.