Cholesterol in T cells : homeostasis, plasma membrane organization and signaling

University dissertation from Stockholm : The Wenner-Gren Institute, Stockholm University

Abstract: The plasma membrane of eukaryotic cells contains cholesterol and glycosphingolipids enriched nanodomains known as lipid rafts; which are believed to exist in a liquid ordered (lo) state. Methyl-beta-cyclodextrin (MBCD) is used to deplete cellular cholesterol and a widespread assumption is that MBCD preferentially targets cholesterol in lipid rafts. To analyze this in T cells a progressive cholesterol extraction protocols was established. At 37ºC, MBCD treatment does not lead to the preferential loss of cholesterol from TX-DRMs. At 0ºC only 35% of total cholesterol could be extracted demonstrating that less than 35% of the cell’s cholesterol is found in the plasma membrane. Moreover, incubation of cells at 0ºC causes loss of plasma membrane cholesterol and an increase in cholesteryl esters. The increase in cholesterol esters upon cold exposure is linked to the cholesterol concentration induced activation of ACAT enzyme which converts cholesterol to cholesteryl esters. Cholesterol concentration specific activation of ACAT and conversion of cholesterol to cholesteryl esters during the loading of cholesterol onto T cells by MBCD was also observed. By using MBCD for progressive cholesterol depletion from T cells at 37ºC, the effect of cholesterol depletion on T cell signaling was addressed. At 10-20% cholesterol depletion levels, tyrosine phosphorylation is increased and ERK is activated. Peripheral actin polymerization, cell spreading and membrane protrusions are also triggered by limited cholesterol depletion. Upon limited cholesterol depletion aggregation of lipid rafts in the plasma membrane was observed. The aggregation of lipid rafts upon cholesterol depletion does not dependent on the signaling proteins such as Src-kinases. Upon cholesterol depletion there is an increase in overall plasma membrane order, indicative of more ordered domains forming at the expense of disordered domains.

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