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Macrophages Shed Excess Cholesterol in Unique Extracellular Structures Containing Cholesterol MicrodomainsHighlights [Basic Sciences]

Objective—Cells use various mechanisms to maintain cellular cholesterol homeostasis including efflux of cholesterol from the cellular plasma membrane to cholesterol acceptors such as HDLs (high-density lipoproteins). Little is known about the transfer of cholesterol from cells into the extracellular matrix. Using a unique monoclonal antibody that detects ordered cholesterol arrays (ie, cholesterol micro[or nano]-domains), we previously identified that particles containing these cholesterol domains accumulate in the extracellular matrix during cholesterol enrichment of human monocyte-derived macrophages and are found in atherosclerotic lesions. In this study, we further investigate these deposited particles containing cholesterol microdomains and discover their unexpected morphology.Approach and Results—Although appearing spherical at the resolution of the conventional fluorescence microscope, super-resolution immunofluorescence and atomic force microscopy of in situ cholesterol microdomains, and immunoelectron microscopy of isolated cholesterol microdomains revealed that the microdomains are not vesicles or 3-dimensional crystals but rather appear as branching irregularly shaped deposits of varying size. These cholesterol microdomain-containing deposits are shed from the plasma membrane into the extracellular matrix.Conclusions—To date, research on cellular excretion of excess cholesterol has demonstrated cellular cholesterol efflux in the form of membranous vesicles and discoidal HDL particles released into the fluid-phase medium. Shedding of plasma membrane cholesterol microdomains provides an additional mechanism for cells such as macrophages to maintain plasma membrane cholesterol homeostasis. Furthermore, recognition that macrophages shed cholesterol microdomains into the extracellular matrix is important to our understanding of extracellular buildup of cholesterol in atherosclerosis.

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