Mechanistic Insights into the Cholesterol-dependent Binding of Perfringolysin O-based Probes and Cell Membranes

Sci Rep. 2017 Oct 23;7(1):13793. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-14002-x.


Cholesterol distribution in the cell is maintained by both vesicular and non-vesicular sterol transport. Non-vesicular transport is mediated by the interaction of membrane-embedded cholesterol and water-soluble proteins. Small changes to the lipid composition of the membrane that do not change the total cholesterol content, can significantly affect how cholesterol interacts with other molecules at the surface of the membrane. The cholesterol-dependent cytolysin Perfringolysin O (PFO) constitutes a powerful tool to detect cholesterol in membranes, and the use of PFO-based probes has flourished in recent years. By using a non-lytic PFO derivative, we showed that the sensitivity of the probes for cholesterol can be tuned by modifications introduced directly in the membrane-interacting loops and/or by modifying residues away from the membrane-interacting domain. Through the use of these biosensors on live RAW 264.7 cells, we found that changes in the overall cholesterol content have a limited effect on the average cholesterol accessibility at the surface of the membrane. We showed that these exquisite biosensors report on changes in cholesterol reactivity at the membrane surface independently of the overall cholesterol content in the membrane.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Toxins / chemistry*
  • Bacterial Toxins / metabolism*
  • Biological Transport
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cholesterol / metabolism*
  • Erythrocytes / metabolism*
  • Hemolysin Proteins / chemistry*
  • Hemolysin Proteins / metabolism*
  • Hemolysis
  • Mice
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Conformation
  • Sheep


  • Bacterial Toxins
  • Hemolysin Proteins
  • Clostridium perfringens theta-toxin
  • Cholesterol