Cholesterol domains in biological membranes

Friedhelm Schroeder, Judith K. Woodford, Juraj Kavecansky, W. Gibson Wood, Clinton Joiner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

108 Scopus citations


Membrane cholesterol is distributed asymmetrically both within the cell or within cellular membranes. Elaboration of intracellular cholesterol trafficking, targeting and intramembrane distribution has been spurred by both molecular and structural approaches. The expression of recombinant sterol carrier proteins in L-cell fibroblasts has been especially useful in demonstrating for the first time that such proteins actually elicit intracellular and intra-plasma membrane redistribution of sterol. Additional advances in the use of native fluorescent sterols allowed resolution of transbilayer and lateral cholesterol domains in plasma membranes from cultured fibroblasts, brain synaptosomes and erythrocytes. In all three cell surface membranes, cholesterol is enriched in the inner, cytofacial leaflet. Up to three different cholesterol domains have been identified in the lateral plane of the plasma membrane: a fast exchanging domain comprising less than 10% of cholesterol, a slowly exchanging domain comprising about 30% of cholesterol, and a very slowly or non-exchangeable sterol domain comprising 50-60. Of plasma membrane cholesterol. Factors modulating plasma membrane cholesterol domains include polyunsaturated fatty acids, expression of intracellular sterol carrier proteins, drugs such as ethanol, and several membrane pathologies (systemic lupus erythematosus, sickle cell anaemia and aging). Disturbances in plasma membrane cholesterol domains after transbilayer fluidity gradients in plasma membranes. Such changes are associated with decreased Ca2+ -ATPase and Na +, K+ -ATPase activity. Thus, the size, dynamics and distribution of cholesterol domains within membranes not only regulate cholesterol efflux/influx but also modulate plasma membrane protein functions and receptor-effector coupled systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)113-119
Number of pages7
JournalMolecular Membrane Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1995

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported in part by the USPHS [GM31651 and DK41402 to FS; AG11056 and AA07292 to W.G.W.; HL37515 to C.J.]. J.K.W. was supported in part by an Ohio Heart Association Fellowship.


  • Bilayer
  • Cholesterol
  • Domain
  • Fluorescence
  • Membrane

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