Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences

, Volume 70, Issue 18, pp 3405–3421 | Cite as

Insights into the mechanisms of sterol transport between organelles

  • Bruno Mesmin
  • Bruno Antonny
  • Guillaume Drin


In cells, the levels of sterol vary greatly among organelles. This uneven distribution depends largely on non-vesicular routes of transfer, which are mediated by soluble carriers called lipid-transfer proteins (LTPs). These proteins have a domain with a hydrophobic cavity that accommodates one sterol molecule. However, a demonstration of their role in sterol transport in cells remains difficult. Numerous LTPs also contain membrane-binding elements, but it is not clear how these LTPs couple their ability to target organelles with lipid transport activity. This issue appears critical, since many sterol transporters are thought to act at contact sites between two membrane-bound compartments. Here, we emphasize that biochemical and structural studies provide precious insights into the mode of action of sterol-binding proteins. Recent studies on START, Osh/ORP and NPC proteins suggest models on how these proteins could transport sterol between organelles and, thereby, influence cellular functions.


Sterol transport Lipid transfer protein Osh/ORP START 





Endoplasmic reticulum


Endosomal recycling compartment


Two phenylalanines in an acidic tract


Lipid tranfer protein


Lysobisphosphatidic acid


Late endosome/lysosome




Niemann-Pick C


Oxysterol-binding protein-related protein


OSBP-related domain


Oxysterol-binding protein


Oxysterol-binding homology protein


Pleckstrin homology




Phosphatidylinositol 4-phosphate


Phosphatidylinositol phosphate


Plasma membrane




Steroidogenic acute regulatory protein


StAR-related lipid transfer


trans-Golgi network



We thank Christine Doucet for critical comments on the manuscript. Our work is financed by the ERC (Advanced Grant 268888), the CNRS and the ANR.


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Copyright information

© Springer Basel 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut de Pharmacologie Moléculaire et CellulaireUniversité de Nice Sophia-Antipolis and CNRSValbonneFrance

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