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Circ Res. 1991 Jul;69(1):216-27.

Excess membrane cholesterol alters calcium movements, cytosolic calcium levels, and membrane fluidity in arterial smooth muscle cells.

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  • 1Department of Physiology and Biochemistry, Medical College of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia 19129.


The relations between membrane cholesterol content, basal (unstimulated) transmembrane 45Ca2+ movements, cytosolic calcium levels, and membrane fluidity were investigated in cultured rabbit aortic smooth muscle cells (SMCs) and isolated SMC plasma membrane microsomes. SMCs were enriched with unesterified (free) cholesterol (FC) for 18-24 hours with medium containing human low density lipoprotein and FC-rich phospholipid (PL) liposomes. This procedure increased cholesterol mass without affecting PL mass, resulting in an increase in the FC/PL molar ratio compared with controls in cells (67% FC increase, p less than 0.001; 43% FC/PL ratio increase, p less than 0.01) and in SMC microsomes (52% FC increase, p less than 0.05; 43% FC/PL ratio increase, p less than 0.05). Cholesterol enrichment also increased unstimulated 45Ca2+ influx (p less than 0.001) and efflux (p less than 0.05). Cellular cholesterol content correlated in a linear fashion with these changes (influx: r = 0.722, p less than 0.01; efflux: r = 0.951, p less than 0.05). In addition, cytosolic calcium levels increased approximately 34% (p less than 0.01) with cholesterol enrichment. The cholesterol-induced increase in 45Ca2+ influx was reversible with time and demonstrated sensitivity to the channel blockers. Fluorescence anisotropy measured from 5 degrees C to 40 degrees C using the fluorophore diphenylhexatriene showed decreased membrane fluidity in microsomal membranes obtained from cholesterol-enriched SMCs compared with controls (p less than 0.02). These results suggest that the SMC plasma membrane is very sensitive to cholesterol enrichment with liposomes or human low density lipoprotein and that increases in membrane cholesterol content increase cytosolic calcium levels in SMCs, are associated with a decrease in membrane fluidity, and unmask a new, or otherwise silent, dihydropyridine-sensitive calcium channel that may be involved in altered arterial wall properties with serum hypercholesterolemia.

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