Our goal is to understand the machinery that maintains the constancy of cholesterol in cell membranes. We expect to discover new proteins and biochemical processes that control the production, intracellular transport, and storage of cholesterol. These discoveries will serve as a model that permits other scientists to expose related mechanisms that control the membrane content of other lipids that are essential for normal cell function. Defects in these control processes will likely be found to underlie diseases as diverse as atherosclerosis, neurodegeneration, and cancer. Cell membranes are fundamental to life, and defects in their function underlie many diseases. Membranes of different organelles have different lipid compositions. For example, cholesterol is markedly enriched in the plasma membrane compared with the ER. Scientists know the enzymes that synthesize and degrade the various lipids in different cell membranes. Yet, very little is known about how these enzymes are regulated so as to maintain differential lipid compositions. Our laboratory made the initial inroad into this problem through the discovery of the SREBP family of transcription factors that control synthesis and uptake of cholesterol and fatty acids. We discovered four proteins whose actions govern the regulated trafficking mechanism that dictates the activities of SREBPs. We are now in a unique position to decipher precisely how this system works at a molecular level. Our findings will drive the field of membrane biology at the level of fundamental understanding and at the level of disease. In the course of our work, we will continue to invent new methodologies, just as we have in the nearly 40 years since we first invented methods to discover receptor-mediated endocytosis and its specific application to LDL. We will uncover new concepts, just as we did when we defined the general processes of regulated-intramembrane proteolysis in 2000 and hydrophobic handoff in 2009. Our work will help scientists in many fields of biology to understand the membranes that play essential roles in all biologic functions.

Public Health Relevance

Although lipid membranes are essential for all cellular life, it is remarkable that we know very little about how the lipid composition of the membrane is maintained. The studies outlined here will provide direct insight into one mechanism - that which controls membrane cholesterol. Discoveries funded by this Program Project Grant have already exerted considerable impact on biology and medicine. For example, discovery of the LDL receptor taught us how the body controls LDL, the lipoprotein most closely linked to heart attacks. Illustrations of the LDL receptor pathway are standard in most textbooks of biochemistry and cell biology. Discovery of the SREBP pathway taught us the molecular basis for the cholesterol-lowering action of statin drugs, which have extended millions of lives. Moreover, this discovery provided a plausible mechanism for the cholesterol elevating effects of high fat diets;it helped to explain how genetic defects in cholesterol homeostasis can produce a plethora of birth defects in mice, ranging from cleft palate to hairlessness (5;6);and it provided insight into how rapidly growing cells, such as cancer cells, produce the lipids that they require for the synthesis of cell membranes. We discovered the SREBPs only 17 years ago. Already they have been the subject of more than 3000 scientific publications (as revealed by Pub Med). Figures illustrating the SREBP pathway have appeared in three widely used cell biology and biochemistry textbooks: Lodish, et al. Molecular Cell Bioloov. 6'^ ed., pp. 707-709, (2008);Pollard, et al. Cell Bioloov. 2^ ed.. pp. 360-363, (2008);and Stryer's Biochemistry. 6 ed., pp. 742-743 (2007). Further discoveries projected from this Project should continue to have an impact on the science that we teach our students. They will also enhance our understanding and treatment of diseases as diverse as neurodegeneration and cancer as well as atherosclerosis itself.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Research Program Projects (P01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Heart, Lung, and Blood Program Project Review Committee (HLBP)
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
United States
Zip Code
Smagris, Eriks; BasuRay, Soumik; Li, John et al. (2015) Pnpla3I148M knockin mice accumulate PNPLA3 on lipid droplets and develop hepatic steatosis. Hepatology 61:108-18
Ulrich, Victoria; Konaniah, Eddy S; Herz, Joachim et al. (2014) Genetic variants of ApoE and ApoER2 differentially modulate endothelial function. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 111:13493-8
Ulrich, Victoria; Konaniah, Eddy S; Lee, Wan-Ru et al. (2014) Antiphospholipid antibodies attenuate endothelial repair and promote neointima formation in mice. J Am Heart Assoc 3:e001369
Gusarova, Viktoria; Alexa, Corey A; Na, Erqian et al. (2014) ANGPTL8/betatrophin does not control pancreatic beta cell expansion. Cell 159:691-6
Reboldi, Andrea; Dang, Eric V; McDonald, Jeffrey G et al. (2014) Inflammation. 25-Hydroxycholesterol suppresses interleukin-1-driven inflammation downstream of type I interferon. Science 345:679-84
Xu, Min; Nagati, Jason S; Xie, Jian et al. (2014) An acetate switch regulates stress erythropoiesis. Nat Med 20:1018-26
Kozlitina, Julia; Smagris, Eriks; Stender, Stefan et al. (2014) Exome-wide association study identifies a TM6SF2 variant that confers susceptibility to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Nat Genet 46:352-6
Das, Akash; Brown, Michael S; Anderson, Donald D et al. (2014) Three pools of plasma membrane cholesterol and their relation to cholesterol homeostasis. Elife 3:
Maetzel, Dorothea; Sarkar, Sovan; Wang, Haoyi et al. (2014) Genetic and chemical correction of cholesterol accumulation and impaired autophagy in hepatic and neural cells derived from Niemann-Pick Type C patient-specific iPS cells. Stem Cell Reports 2:866-80
Lane-Donovan, Courtney; Philips, Gary T; Herz, Joachim (2014) More than cholesterol transporters: lipoprotein receptors in CNS function and neurodegeneration. Neuron 83:771-87

Showing the most recent 10 out of 670 publications