Stability and stoichiometry of bilayer phospholipid-cholesterol complexes: relationship to cellular sterol distribution and homeostasis.

PMID 24000774


Is cholesterol distributed among intracellular compartments by passive equilibration down its chemical gradient? If so, its distribution should reflect the relative cholesterol affinity of the constituent membrane phospholipids as well as their capacity for association with the sterol. We examined this issue by analyzing the reactivity to cholesterol oxidase of large unilamellar vesicles (LUVs) containing phospholipids and varied levels of cholesterol. The rates of cholesterol oxidation differed among the various phospholipid environments by roughly 4 orders of magnitude. Furthermore, accessibility to the enzyme increased by orders of magnitude at cholesterol thresholds that suggested cholesterol:phospholipid association ratios of 1:1, 2:3, or 1:2 (moles:moles). The accessibility of cholesterol above these thresholds was still constrained by its particular phospholipid environment. One phospholipid, 1-stearoyl-2-oleoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphatidylserine, exhibited no threshold. The analysis suggested values for the stoichiometries of the putative cholesterol-phospholipid complexes, their relative stabilities, and the fractions of bilayer cholesterol not in complexes at the threshold equivalence points. Predictably, the saturated phosphorylcholine species had the lowest apparent stoichiometric ratios and the strongest associations with cholesterol. These results are in general agreement with the equilibrium distribution of cholesterol between the various LUVs and methyl-β-cyclodextrin. In addition, the behavior of the cholesterol in intact human red blood cells matched predictions made from LUVs of the corresponding composition. These results support a passive mechanism for the intracellular distribution of cholesterol that can provide a signal for its homeostatic regulation.