Pitfalls in the detection of cholesterol in Huntington's disease models

Manuela Marullo, Marta Valenza, Valerio Leoni, Claudio Caccia, Chiara Scarlatti, Agnese de Mario, Chiara Zuccato, Stefano Di Donato, Ernesto Carafoli, Elena Cattaneo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background Abnormalities in brain cholesterol homeostasis have been reported in Huntington's disease (HD), an adult-onset neurodegenerative disorder caused by an expansion in the number of CAG repeats in the huntingtin (HTT) gene. However, the results have been contradictory with respect to whether cholesterol levels increase or decrease in HD models. Biochemical and mass spectrometry methods show reduced levels of cholesterol precursors and cholesterol in HD cells and in the brains of several HD animal models. Abnormal brain cholesterol homeostasis was also inferred from studies in HD patients. In contrast, colorimetric and enzymatic methods indicate cholesterol accumulation in HD cells and tissues. Here we used several methods to investigate cholesterol levels in cultured cells in the presence or absence of mutant HTT protein. Results Colorimetric and enzymatic methods with low sensitivity gave variable results, whereas results from a sensitive analytical method, gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, were more reliable. Sample preparation, high cell density and cell clonality also influenced the detection of intracellular cholesterol. Conclusions Detection of cholesterol in HD samples by colorimetric and enzymatic assays should be supplemented by detection using more sensitive analytical methods. Care must be taken to prepare the sample appropriately. By evaluating lathosterol levels using isotopic dilution mass spectrometry, we confirmed reduced cholesterol biosynthesis in knock-in cells expressing the polyQ mutation in a constitutive or inducible manner.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere505886e9a1968
JournalPLoS Currents
Issue numberOCTOBER 2012
Publication statusPublished - 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)


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