Cells obtain cholesterol, an important component of cell membranes, by building it internally or by taking it up from the bloodstream. The cholesterol-building process involves more than 25 enzymes, including one called HMG CoA reductase, and many layers of regulatory control, said Russell DeBose-Boyd, senior author of the study.
Scientists have long known that cells respond to a high cholesterol diet by shutting down its internal synthesis, he explained. However, the molecular mechanisms by which cholesterol and other related compounds exert that self-control have only more recently begun to emerge.
The researchers now demonstrate that lanosterol--an intermediate compound in the synthetic pathway--mediates feedback control over the rate of cholesterol production by stimulating the degradation of cholesterol-building reductase. The availability of reductase, which functions early in the synthetic process, largely determines the rate of cellular cholesterol production, Debose-Boyd said.
When added to intact cells and cellular components in test tubes, lanosterol led other proteins to mark reductase for destruction by attaching a protein called ubiquitin in a process called ubiquitination. Ubiquitination is a common mechanism for stimulating protein degradation. Cholesterol itself had no such effect on reductase, even at much greater concentrations, they found.
"The current results demonstrate a direct role for lanosterol as a selective, physiologic regulator of reductase ubiquitination and degradation," said DeBose-Boyd. That effect woul