Macrophage membrane cholesterol is present in two subcellular cholesterol pools, a rapidly exchanging compartment comprising about two-thirds of the total cholesterol, and a slowly exchanging compartment comprising one-third of the total. The morphological identification of the kinetically distinguishable pools proceeded by alteration of each compartment. Trypsin treatment markedly decreased the rate of cholesterol exchange without removing cholesterol from the membrane. Recovery of normal exchange rates took more than 7 hr and required protein synthesis. This suggested that a plasma membrane receptor is involved in positioning of lipoproteins for exchange, and is consistent with the plasma membrane localization of the rapidly exchanging compartment.
Extensive pinocytosis by nondegradable dextran, dextran sulfate, or sucrose resulted in the accumulation of many secondary lysosomes, thus increasing the relative proportion of intracellular membranes. The measurable granule membrane area, cholesterol content, phospholipid content, and the relative size of the slowly exchanging cholesterol compartment all increased. The amount of intracellular membrane altered by extensive phagocytosis of latex particles also increased the size of the slowly exchanging cholesterol compartment. This suggested that the slowly exchanging pool of cholesterol represented the intracellular membranes primarily of lysosomal origin.
Rabbit alveolar macrophages and thioglycollate-stimulated peritoneal macrophages contain many secondary lysosomes as a result of multiple bouts of in vivo phagocytosis and pinocytosis. In both of these cells the fast and slow pools are equal in size. The increased cholesterol content was attributable to the increase in the relative size of the slowly exchanging compartment. L-cells and melanoma cells also exchange their cholesterol with that of serum lipoproteins. Both cells contain few cholesterol-rich intracellular membranes, and had lower cellular cholesterol contents. In these cells the slowly exchanging pool was a minor contribution to cell cholesterol. Studies with these cells provided further evidence for the lysosomal membrane and plasma membrane localization of the slowly and rapidly exchanging cholesterol compartments.