On the mechanism of transfer of cholesterol between human erythrocytes and plasma

J Biol Chem. 1983 Jun 10;258(11):6920-6.


The kinetics of transfer of [3H]cholesterol between human erythrocytes and plasma at 37 degrees C in physiological buffer had these features. 1) Cholesterol transfer was strikingly similar in both directions. 2) Transfer progressed to isotopic equilibrium in a monotonic, apparently first order fashion, except for a minor rapid component (approximately 15%) observed in the transfer of cholesterol from cells to plasma. 3) The mechanism of transfer was not via transient collisions in that the rate of the reaction was quite insensitive to the concentration of reactants over a wide range. 4) The mechanism of transfer did not involve specific, stable complex formation in that there was little difference in the behavior of erythrocytes and inside-out plasma membrane vesicles derived therefrom or between plasma and sonicated liposomes as acceptors. Furthermore, transfer was not affected by vigorous proteolysis of either the cells or the plasma. 5) The kinetics of transfer were fully compatible with diffusion of cholesterol through the aqueous compartment. This was shown by fitting our data to a rigorous model for diffusion equilibrium between three compartments. 6) The partition coefficient of [3H]cholesterol between red cells and buffer was shown to be 10(7). 7) The rate constants for cholesterol release from both red cells and plasma were approximately 1 X 10(-4) s-1 (t 1/2 approximately 2 h). The rate constant for cholesterol uptake into red cells was approximately 1 X 10(3) s-1 (t 1/2 approximately 1 ms). 8) The similarity of the corresponding kinetic constants among red cells, plasma, and liposomes suggests that phospholipids in a variety of physical forms are equivalent solvents for cholesterol. We conclude that despite its extremely low solubility in water, cholesterol moves between lipid compartments by aqueous diffusion.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Biological Transport
  • Cholesterol / blood*
  • Erythrocytes / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Kinetics
  • Liposomes
  • Plasma / metabolism
  • Tritium


  • Liposomes
  • Tritium
  • Cholesterol