High-resolution imaging and quantification of plasma membrane cholesterol by NanoSIMS

Cuiwen He, Xuchen Hu, Rachel S. Jung, Thomas A. Weston, Norma P. Sandoval, Peter Tontonoz, Matthew R. Kilburn, Loren G. Fong, Stephen G. Young, Haibo Jiang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Citations (Scopus)


Cholesterol is a crucial lipid within the plasma membrane of mammalian cells. Recent biochemical studies showed that one pool of cholesterol in the plasma membrane is "accessible" to binding by a modified version of the cytolysin perfringolysin O (PFO∗), whereas another pool is sequestered by sphingomyelin and cannot be bound by PFO∗ unless the sphingomyelin is destroyed with sphingomyelinase (SMase). Thus far, it has been unclear whether PFO∗ and related cholesterol-binding proteins bind uniformly to the plasma membrane or bind preferentially to specific domains or morphologic features on the plasma membrane. Here, we used nanoscale secondary ion mass spectrometry (NanoSIMS) imaging, in combination with 15N-labeled cholesterol-binding proteins (PFO∗ and ALO-D4, a modified anthrolysin O), to generate high-resolution images of cholesterol distribution in the plasma membrane of Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells. The NanoSIMS images revealed preferential binding of PFO∗ and ALO-D4 to microvilli on the plasma membrane; lower amounts of binding were detectable in regions of the plasma membrane lacking microvilli. The binding of ALO-D4 to the plasma membrane was virtually eliminated when cholesterol stores were depleted with methyl-β-cyclodextrin. When cells were treated with SMase, the binding of ALO-D4 to cells increased, largely due to increased binding to microvilli. Remarkably, lysenin (a sphingomyelinbinding protein) also bound preferentially to microvilli. Thus, high-resolution images of lipid-binding proteins on CHO cells can be acquired with NanoSIMS imaging. These images demonstrate that accessible cholesterol, as judged by PFO∗ or ALO-D4 binding, is not evenly distributed over the entire plasma membrane but instead is highly enriched on microvilli.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2000-2005
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 21 Feb 2017


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