We investigated the cholesterol content of highly purified populations of coated vesicles from rat liver by biochemical quantitation and by cytochemical electron microscopy using the polyene antibiotic filipin. Failure of this reagent to elicit its typical response for a cholesterol-containing membrane, i.e., a characteristically corrugated or rippled appearance by thin section analysis, had led to the hypothesis (Montesano, R., A. Perrelet, P. Vassalli, and L. Orci, 1979, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA., 76:6391-6395) that cholesterol is specifically excluded from the plasma membrane domains associated with coated pit regions. The present electron microscopic results showed that although the response of coated vesicle membranes to filipin was also negative, uncoated vesicles whose clathrin coats had been removed in vitro exhibited a strong filipin-positive response. Quantitated biochemically, the cholesterol-to-phospholipid ratio of the coated vesicles was found to be indistinguishable from that of control preparations of plasma membranes isolated from rat liver. Taken together, the results indicate that the filipin-negative response of coated vesicles (and probably also that of coated pits) is due not to abnormally low cholesterol content, but rather to the stabilizing influence of their enveloping clathrin coats which inhibit the characteristic structural expression of the filipin-cholesterol complexes.

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