Measuring and Manipulating Membrane Cholesterol for the Study of Hedgehog Signaling

Maia Kinnebrew, Kristen A. Johnson, Arun Radhakrishnan, Rajat Rohatgi

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Scopus citations


Cholesterol is an abundant lipid in mammalian plasma membranes that regulates the reception of the Hedgehog (Hh) signal in target cells. In vertebrates, cell-surface organelles called primary cilia function as compartments for the propagation of Hh signals. Recent structural, biochemical, and cell-biological studies have led to the model that Patched-1 (PTCH1), the receptor for Hh ligands, uses its transporter-like activity to lower cholesterol accessibility in the membrane surrounding primary cilia. Cholesterol restriction at cilia may represent the long-sought-after mechanism by which PTCH1 inhibits Smoothened (SMO), a cholesterol-responsive transmembrane protein of the G protein-coupled receptor superfamily that transmits the Hh signal across the membrane. Protein probes based on microbial cholesterol-binding proteins revealed that PTCH1 controls only a subset of the total cholesterol molecules, a biochemically defined fraction called accessible cholesterol. The accessible cholesterol pool coexists (and exchanges) with a pool of sequestered cholesterol, which is bound to phospholipids like sphingomyelin. In this chapter, we describe how to measure the accessible and sequestered cholesterol pools in live cells with protein-based probes. We discuss how to purify and fluorescently label these probes for use in flow cytometry and microscopy-based measurements of the cholesterol pools. Additionally, we describe how to modulate accessible cholesterol levels to determine if this pool regulates Hh signaling (or any other cellular process of interest).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationMethods in Molecular Biology
PublisherHumana Press Inc.
Number of pages15
StatePublished - 2022

Publication series

NameMethods in Molecular Biology
ISSN (Print)1064-3745
ISSN (Electronic)1940-6029


  • Anthrolysin O
  • Cholesterol
  • Hedgehog signaling
  • Lipids
  • Ostreolysin A
  • Patched-1
  • Perfringolysin O
  • Primary cilia
  • Signal transduction
  • Smoothened
  • Sphingomyelin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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