Although cholesterol is essential for membrane fluidity and deformability, the level of its lateral heterogeneity at the plasma membrane of living cells is poorly understood due to lack of appropriate probe. We here report on the usefulness of the D4 fragment of Clostridium perfringens toxin fused to mCherry (theta*), as specific, non-toxic, sensitive and quantitative cholesterol-labeling tool, using erythrocyte flat membrane. By confocal microscopy, theta* labels cholesterol-enriched submicrometric domains in coverslip-spread but also gel-suspended (non-stretched) fresh erythrocytes, suggesting in vivo relevance. Cholesterol domains on spread erythrocytes are stable in time and space, restricted by membrane:spectrin anchorage via 4.1R complexes, and depend on temperature and sphingomyelin, indicating combined regulation by extrinsic membrane:cytoskeleton interaction and by intrinsic lipid packing. Cholesterol domains partially co-localize with BODIPY-sphingomyelin-enriched domains. In conclusion, we show that theta* is a useful vital probe to study cholesterol organization and demonstrate that cholesterol forms submicrometric domains in living cells.
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