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J Am Chem Soc. 2015 Feb 4;137(4):1601-7. doi: 10.1021/ja511642t. Epub 2015 Jan 27.

Formation of 3D cholesterol crystals from 2D nucleation sites in lipid bilayer membranes: implications for atherosclerosis.

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Department of Structural Biology, Weizmann Institute of Science , Rehovot 76100, Israel.


Atherosclerosis is the major precursor of cardiovascular disease. The formation of cholesterol crystals in atherosclerotic plaques is associated with the onset of acute pathology. The cholesterol crystals induce physical injury in the plaque core, promoting cell apoptosis and triggering an increased inflammatory response. Herein we address the question of how cholesterol crystal formation occurs in atherosclerosis. We demonstrate that three-dimensional (3D) cholesterol crystals can undergo directed nucleation from bilayer membranes containing two-dimensional (2D) cholesterol crystalline domains. We studied crystal formation on supported lipid bilayers loaded with exogenous cholesterol and labeled using a monoclonal antibody that specifically recognizes ordered cholesterol arrays. Our findings show that 3D crystals are formed exclusively on the bilayer regions where there are segregated 2D cholesterol crystalline domains and that they form on the domains. This study has potentially significant implications for our understanding of the crucial step in the mechanism by which atherosclerotic lesions form.

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