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J Lipid Res. 2011 Feb;52(2):256-62. doi: 10.1194/jlr.M011569. Epub 2010 Nov 3.

Human LDL core cholesterol ester packing: three-dimensional image reconstruction and SAXS simulation studies.

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  • 1Department of Physiology and Biophysics, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA 02118, USA.


Human LDL undergoes a reversible thermal order-disorder phase transition associated with the cholesterol ester packing in the lipid core. Structural changes associated with this phase transition have been shown to affect the resistance of LDL to oxidation in vitro studies. Previous electron cryo-microscopy studies have provided image evidence that the cholesterol ester is packed in three flat layers in the core at temperatures below the phase transition. To study changes in lipid packing, overall structure and particle morphology in three dimensions (3D) subsequent to the phase transition, we cryo-preserved human LDL at a temperature above phase transition (53°C) and examined the sample by electron microscopy and image reconstruction. The LDL frozen from 53°C adopted a different morphology. The central density layer was disrupted and the outer two layers formed a "disrupted shell"-shaped density, located concentrically underneath the surface density of the LDL particle. Simulation of the small angle X-ray scattering curves and comparison with published data suggested that this disrupted shell organization represents an intermediate state in the transition from isotropic to layered packing of the lipid. Thus, the results revealed, with 3D images, the lipid packing in the dynamic process of the LDL lipid-core phase transition.

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