Researchers explore a new method to study cholesterol distribution on cells

March 20, 2017
NanoSIMS imaging of 'accessible cholesterol' on cultured cells, demonstrating increased amounts of accessible cholesterol on the microvilli projections from cells. Credit: Haibo Jiang and Stephen Young

Researchers from UCLA and the University of Western Australia have developed a new way of visualizing the distribution of cholesterol in cells and tissues. Their research provides insights into the movement of cholesterol into and out of cells and could eventually identify mechanisms linking cholesterol to coronary artery disease.

Using a new high-resolution imaging mass spectrometry approach called NanoSIMS imaging, the team was able to visualize and quantify a pool of cholesterol called "accessible cholesterol" on the surface of cells.

Cholesterol is an essential lipid and is critical for maintaining the integrity of the membrane in every cell in the body. But elevated levels of cholesterol in the blood represent a risk factor for .

The accessible pool of cholesterol on the plasma membrane is thought to play a role in regulating production of cholesterol by cells and likely plays a role in the ability of cells to unload surplus cholesterol. "Accessible cholesterol" on the surface of cells can be detected with a cholesterol-binding protein from bacteria.

By taking advantage of the bacterial protein, along with NanoSIMS imaging, researchers showed that the accessible pool of cholesterol is not evenly distributed on a cell's plasma membrane but instead is highly enriched on specialized projections from the plasma membrane called microvilli.

"In the past, other scientists had speculated that microvilli play a role in moving cholesterol into and out of cells," said the study's co-author, Dr. Stephen Young, a distinguished professor of medicine and human genetics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "The discovery that 'accessible cholesterol' is highly enriched in microvilli lends support to that idea."

The findings were recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Dr. Haibo Jiang, a study co-author, noted that NanoSIMS imaging provides unique insights into cholesterol distribution on the and future studies will make it possible to assess mechanisms by which cells dispose of excess cholesterol.

"We would like to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms of cholesterol movement in and tissues," said Jiang, a lecturer from the University of Western Australia's Centre for Microscopy, Characterisation and Analysis. "We believe that NanoSIMS imaging could yield new strategies for lowering in the blood or at least new strategies for optimizing the effects of existing cholesterol-lowering drugs."

Added Young: "The plan now is to use NanoSIMS, along with novel biochemical approaches, to investigate distribution and movement in multiple cell types."

Explore further: Researchers study a new way to lower LDL cholesterol

More information: Cuiwen He et al. High-resolution imaging and quantification of plasma membrane cholesterol by NanoSIMS, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2017). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1621432114

Related Stories

Researchers study a new way to lower LDL cholesterol

March 7, 2017
In a paper published in Biochemical Pharmacology, Saint Louis University researchers examined the way a nuclear receptor called REV-ERB is involved in regulating cholesterol metabolism. Their findings suggest that drugs targeting ...

Prostate cancer cells grow with malfunction of cholesterol control in cells

February 21, 2017
Advanced prostate cancer and high blood cholesterol have long been known to be connected, but it has been a chicken-or-egg problem.

New role of cholesterol in regulating brain proteins discovered

February 23, 2017
A study led by researchers at the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute (IMIM) and the Faculty of Medicine in Charité Hospital, Berlin demonstrates that the cholesterol present in cell membranes can interfere with ...

Cholesterol helps regulate key signaling proteins in the cell

December 19, 2012
Cholesterol plays a key role in regulating proteins involved in cell signaling and may be important to many other cell processes, an international team of researchers has found.

High cholesterol in childhood

June 28, 2016
Dear Mayo Clinic: My grandson is 11 and already has high cholesterol. He does not eat a lot of junk food and plays many sports, but we do have high cholesterol in our family. Could this be hereditary, and, if so, is it common ...

Recommended for you

Common antiseptic ingredients de-energize cells and impair hormone response

August 22, 2017
A new in-vitro study by University of California, Davis, researchers indicates that quaternary ammonium compounds, or "quats," used as antimicrobial agents in common household products inhibit mitochondria, the powerhouses ...

Researchers offer new targets for drugs against fatty liver disease and liver cancer

August 22, 2017
There may no silver bullet for treating liver cancer or fatty liver disease, but knowing the right targets will help scientists develop the most effective treatments. Researchers in Sweden have just identified a number of ...

Make way for hemoglobin

August 18, 2017
Every cell in the body, whether skin or muscle or brain, starts out as a generic cell that acquires its unique characteristics after undergoing a process of specialization. Nowhere is this process more dramatic than it is ...

Bio-inspired materials give boost to regenerative medicine

August 18, 2017
What if one day, we could teach our bodies to self-heal like a lizard's tail, and make severe injury or disease no more threatening than a paper cut?

Are stem cells the link between bacteria and cancer?

August 17, 2017
Gastric carcinoma is one of the most common causes of cancer-related deaths, primarily because most patients present at an advanced stage of the disease. The main cause of this cancer is the bacterium Helicobacter pylori, ...

Two-step process leads to cell immortalization and cancer

August 17, 2017
A mutation that helps make cells immortal is critical to the development of a tumor, but new research at the University of California, Berkeley suggests that becoming immortal is a more complicated process than originally ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.