Cholesterol, the central lipid of mammalian cells
Despite its importance for mammalian cell biology and human health, there are many basic aspects of cholesterol homeostasis that are not well understood. Even for the well-characterized delivery of cholesterol to cells via lipoproteins, a novel regulatory mechanism has been discovered recently, involving a serum protein called PCSK9, which profoundly affects lipoproteins and their receptors. Cells can export cholesterol by processes that require the activity of ABC transporters, but the molecular mechanisms for cholesterol transport remain unclear. Cholesterol levels in different organelles vary by 5-10-fold, and the mechanisms for maintaining these differences are now partially understood. Several proteins have been proposed to play a role in the inter-organelle movement of cholesterol, but many aspects of the mechanisms for regulating intracellular transport and distribution of cholesterol remain to be worked out. The endoplasmic reticulum is the main organelle responsible for regulation of cholesterol synthesis, and careful measurements have shown that the proteins responsible for sterol sensing respond over a very narrow range of cholesterol concentrations to provide very precise, switch-like control over cholesterol synthesis.