C-type lectin receptors (CLRs) are an emerging family of pattern recognition receptors that recognizes pathogens or damaged tissue to trigger innate immune responses. However, endogenous ligands for CLRs are not fully understood. In this study, we sought to identify an endogenous ligand(s) for human macrophage-inducible C-type lectin (hMincle). A particular fraction of lipid extracts from liver selectively activated reporter cells expressing hMincle. MS analysis determined the chemical structure of the active component as cholesterol. Purified cholesterol in plate-coated and crystalized forms activates reporter cells expressing hMincle but not murine Mincle (mMincle). Cholesterol crystals are known to activate immune cells and induce inflammatory responses through lysosomal damage. However, direct innate immune receptors for cholesterol crystals have not been identified. Murine macrophages transfected with hMincle responded to cholesterol crystals by producing pro-inflammatory cytokines. Human dendritic cells expressed a set of inflammatory genes in response to cholesterol crystals, and this was inhibited by anti-human Mincle. Importantly, other related CLRs did not bind cholesterol crystals, whereas other steroids were not recognized by hMincle. These results suggest that cholesterol crystals are an endogenous ligand for hMincle and that they activate innate immune responses.
!!!All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes