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Summary

Coxiella burnetii directs the synthesis of a large parasitophorous vacuole (PV) required for replication. While some lysosomal characteristics of the PV have been described, the origin and composition of the PV membrane is largely undefined. Cholesterol is an essential component of mammalian cell membranes where it plays important regulatory and structural roles. Here we investigated the role of host cholesterol in biogenesis and maintenance of the C. burnetii PV in Vero cells. The C. burnetii PV membrane stained with filipin and was positive for the lipid raft protein flotillin-1, suggesting PV membranes are enriched in cholesterol and contain lipid raft microdomains. C. burnetii infection increased host cell cholesterol content by 1.75-fold with a coincident upregulation of host genes involved in cholesterol metabolism. Treatment with U18666A, lovastatin, or 25-hydroxycholesterol, pharmacological agents that inhibit cholesterol uptake and/or biosynthesis, altered PV morphology and partially inhibited C. burnetii replication. Complete inhibition of C. burnetii PV development and replication was observed when infected cells were treated with imipramine or ketoconazole, inhibitors of cholesterol uptake and biosynthesis respectively. We conclude that C. burnetii infection perturbs host cell cholesterol metabolism and that free access to host cholesterol stores is required for optimal C. burnetii replication.