Caveolae are a membrane specialization used to internalize molecules by potocytosis. Caveolin, an integral membrane protein, is associated with the striated coat present on the cytoplasmic surface of the caveolae membrane. We now report that oxidation of caveolar cholesterol with cholesterol oxidase rapidly displaces the caveolin from the plasma membrane to intracellular vesicles that colocalize with Golgi apparatus markers. After the enzyme is removed from the medium, caveolin returns to caveolae. When untreated cells are gently homogenized, caveolin on the plasma membrane is accessible to both anti-caveolin IgG and trypsin. After cholesterol oxidase treatment, however, Golgi-associated caveolin is inaccessible to both of these molecules. Brefeldin A, which inhibits ER to Golgi trafficking, blocks the appearance of caveolin in the Golgi apparatus but does not prevent caveolin from leaving the plasma membrane. Indirect immunogold localization experiments show that in the presence of cholesterol oxidase caveolin leaves the plasma membrane and becomes associated with endoplasmic reticulum and Golgi compartments. Surprisingly, the loss of caveolin from the plasma membrane does not affect the number or morphology of the caveolae.

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