Cholesterol reduction impairs exocytosis of synaptic vesicles

Anna Linetti, Alessandra Fratangeli, Elena Taverna, Pamela Valnegri, Maura Francolini, Valentina Cappello, Michela Matteoli, Maria Passafaro, Patrizia Rosa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cholesterol and sphingolipids are abundant in neuronal membranes, where they help the organisation of the membrane microdomains involved in major roles such as axonal and dendritic growth, and synapse and spine stability. The aim of this study was to analyse their roles in presynaptic physiology. We first confirmed the presence of proteins of the exocytic machinery (SNARES and Cav2.1 channels) in the lipid microdomains of cultured neurons, and then incubated the neurons with fumonisin B (an inhibitor of sphingolipid synthesis), or with mevastatin or zaragozic acid (two compounds that affect the synthesis of cholesterol by inhibiting HMG-CoA reductase or squalene synthase). The results demonstrate that fumonisin B and zaragozic acid efficiently decrease sphingolipid and cholesterol levels without greatly affecting the viability of neurons or the expression of synaptic proteins. Electron microscopy showed that the morphology and number of synaptic vesicles in the presynaptic boutons of cholesterol-depleted neurons were similar to those observed in control neurons. Zaragozic acid (but not fumonisin B) treatment impaired synaptic vesicle uptake of the lipophilic dye FM1-43 and an antibody directed against the luminal epitope of synaptotagmin-1, effects that depended on the reduction in cholesterol because they were reversed by cholesterol reloading. The time-lapse confocal imaging of neurons transfected with ecliptic SynaptopHluorin showed that cholesterol depletion affects the post-depolarisation increase in fluorescence intensity. Taken together, these findings show that reduced cholesterol levels impair synaptic vesicle exocytosis in cultured neurons.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)595-605
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Cell Science
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Feb 15 2010


  • Cholesterol
  • Regulated exocytosis
  • SNARE proteins
  • Sphingolipids
  • Synapses
  • Synaptic vesicles

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology


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