Analysis of Cholesterol Trafficking with Fluorescent Probes
Cholesterol plays an important role in determining the biophysical properties of biological membranes, and its concentration is tightly controlled by homeostatic processes. The intracellular transport of cholesterol among organelles is a key part of the homeostatic mechanism, but sterol transport processes are not well understood. Fluorescence microscopy is a valuable tool for studying intracellular transport processes, but this method can be challenging for lipid molecules because addition of a fluorophore may alter the properties of the molecule greatly. We discuss the use of fluorescent molecules that can bind to cholesterol to reveal its distribution in cells. We also discuss the use of intrinsically fluorescent sterols that closely mimic cholesterol, as well as some minimally modified fluorophore-labeled sterols. Methods for imaging these sterols by conventional fluorescence microscopy and by multiphoton microscopy are described. Some label-free methods for imaging cholesterol itself are also discussed briefly.