Dictionary of Human Evolution and Biology

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A white, waxy, crystalline organic eukaryotic sterol that in higher animals is the precursor of bile acids and steroid hormones and is a key component of cell membranes, mediating their fluidity and permeability. Most cholesterol is synthesized by the liver and other tissues, but some is absorbed from dietary sources, with each kind transported in plasma by specific lipoproteins. Cholesterol is a universal tissue constituent present in all animal fats, oils, bile, brain tissue, blood, plasma membranes, and egg yolk, and can accumulate or deposit abnormally, as in some gallstones.

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