Fluorescence techniques using dehydroergosterol to study cholesterol trafficking.

PMID 18536950


Cholesterol itself has very few structural/chemical features suitable for real-time imaging in living cells. Thus, the advent of dehydroergosterol [ergosta-5,7,9(11),22-tetraen-3beta-ol, DHE] the fluorescent sterol most structurally and functionally similar to cholesterol to date, has proven to be a major asset for real-time probing/elucidating the sterol environment and intracellular sterol trafficking in living organisms. DHE is a naturally occurring, fluorescent sterol analog that faithfully mimics many of the properties of cholesterol. Because these properties are very sensitive to sterol structure and degradation, such studies require the use of extremely pure (>98%) quantities of fluorescent sterol. DHE is readily bound by cholesterol-binding proteins, is incorporated into lipoproteins (from the diet of animals or by exchange in vitro), and for real-time imaging studies is easily incorporated into cultured cells where it co-distributes with endogenous sterol. Incorporation from an ethanolic stock solution to cell culture media is effective, but this process forms an aqueous dispersion of DHE crystals which can result in endocytic cellular uptake and distribution into lysosomes which is problematic in imaging DHE at the plasma membrane of living cells. In contrast, monomeric DHE can be incorporated from unilamellar vesicles by exchange/fusion with the plasma membrane or from DHE-methyl-beta-cyclodextrin (DHE-MbetaCD) complexes by exchange with the plasma membrane. Both of the latter techniques can deliver large quantities of monomeric DHE with significant distribution into the plasma membrane. The properties and behavior of DHE in protein-binding, lipoproteins, model membranes, biological membranes, lipid rafts/caveolae, and real-time imaging in living cells indicate that this naturally occurring fluorescent sterol is a useful mimic for probing the properties of cholesterol in these systems.

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Ergosta-5,7,9(11),22-tetraen-3β-ol, ~96% (HPLC)