STARD4 knockdown in HepG2 cells disrupts cholesterol trafficking associated with the plasma membrane, ER, and ERC
Membrane Transport Proteins
RNA, Small Interfering
STARD4, a member of the evolutionarily conserved START gene family, has been implicated in the nonvesicular intracellular transport of cholesterol. However, the direction of transport and the membranes with which this protein interacts are not clear. We present studies of STARD4 function using small hairpin RNA knockdown technology to reduce STARD4 expression in HepG2 cells. In a cholesterol-poor environment, we found that a reduction in STARD4 expression leads to retention of cholesterol at the plasma membrane, reduction of endoplasmic reticulum-associated cholesterol, and decreased ACAT synthesized cholesteryl esters. Furthermore, D4 KD cells exhibited a reduced rate of sterol transport to the endocytic recycling compartment after cholesterol repletion. Although these cells displayed normal endocytic trafficking in cholesterol-poor and replete conditions, cell surface low density lipoprotein receptor (LDLR) levels were increased and decreased, respectively. We also observed a decrease in NPC1 protein expression, suggesting the induction of compensatory pathways to maintain cholesterol balance. These data indicate a role for STARD4 in nonvesicular transport of cholesterol from the plasma membrane and the endocytic recycling compartment to the endoplasmic reticulum and perhaps other intracellular compartments as well.