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This article has been peer reviewed. It was published in: The Journal of general physiology.

Volume 115, Issue 4, 2000, Pages 405-16.

The published version is available at PMID: 10736308 . Copyright © Rockefeller Press.


Activation of volume-regulated anion current (VRAC) plays a key role in the maintenance of cellular volume homeostasis. The mechanisms, however, that regulate VRAC activity are not fully understood. We have examined whether VRAC activation is modulated by the cholesterol content of the membrane bilayer. The cholesterol content of bovine aortic endothelial cells was increased by two independent methods: (a) exposure to a methyl-beta-cyclodextrin saturated with cholesterol, or (b) exposure to cholesterol-enriched lipid dispersions. Enrichment of bovine aortic endothelial cells with cholesterol resulted in a suppression of VRAC activation in response to a mild osmotic gradient, but not to a strong osmotic gradient. Depletion of membrane cholesterol by exposing the cells to methyl-beta-cyclodextrin not complexed with cholesterol resulted in an enhancement of VRAC activation when the cells were challenged with a mild osmotic gradient. VRAC activity in cells challenged with a strong osmotic gradient were unaffected by depletion of membrane cholesterol. These observations show that changes in membrane cholesterol content shift VRAC sensitivity to osmotic gradients. Changes in VRAC activation were not accompanied by changes in anion permeability ratios, indicating that channel selectivity was not affected by the changes in membrane cholesterol. This suggests that membrane cholesterol content affects the equilibrium between the closed and open states of VRAC channel rather than the basic pore properties of the channel. We hypothesize that changes in membrane cholesterol modulate VRAC activity by affecting the membrane deformation energy associated with channel opening.

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