Steroidogenic Acute Regulatory Protein Binds Cholesterol and Modulates Mitochondrial Membrane Sterol Domain Dynamics* Academic Article uri icon


  • The steroidogenic acute regulatory protein (StAR) mediates the rate-limiting step of steroidogenesis, delivery of cholesterol to the inner mitochondrial membrane. However, the mechanism whereby cholesterol translocation is accomplished has not been resolved. Recombinant StAR proteins lacking the first N-terminal 62 amino acids comprising the mitochondrial-targeting sequence were used to determine if StAR binds cholesterol and alters mitochondrial membrane cholesterol domains to enhance sterol transfer. First, a fluorescent NBD-cholesterol binding assay revealed 2 sterol binding sites (K(d) values near 32 nm), whereas the inactive A218V N-62 StAR mutant had only a single binding site with 8-fold lower affinity. Second, NBD-cholesterol spectral shifts and fluorescence resonance energy transfer from StAR Trp residues to NBD-cholesterol showed (i) close molecular interaction between these molecules (R(2/3) = 33 A) and (ii) sensitized NBD-cholesterol emission from only one of the two sterol binding sites. Third, circular dichroism showed that cholesterol binding induced a change in StAR secondary structure. Fourth, a fluorescent sterol transfer assay that did not require separation of donor and acceptor mitochondrial membranes demonstrated that StAR enhanced mitochondrial sterol transfer as much as 100-fold and induced/increased the formation of rapidly transferable cholesterol domains in isolated mitochondrial membranes. StAR was 67-fold more effective in transferring cholesterol from mitochondria of steroidogenic MA-10 cells than from human fibroblast mitochondria. In contrast, sterol carrier protein-2 (SCP-2) was only 2.2-fold more effective in mediating sterol transfer from steroidogenic cell mitochondria. Taken together these data showed that StAR is a cholesterol-binding protein, preferentially enhances sterol transfer from steroidogenic cell mitochondria, and interacts with mitochondrial membranes to alter their sterol domain structure and dynamics.

author list (cited authors)

  • Petrescu, A. D., Gallegos, A. M., Okamura, Y., Strauss, J. F., & Schroeder, F.

citation count

  • 106

complete list of authors

  • Petrescu, AD||Gallegos, AM||Okamura, Y||Strauss, JF||Schroeder, F

publication date

  • August 2001