In addition to its importance within cells, cholesterol also serves as a precursor for the biosynthesis of steroid hormones, bile acids, and vitamin D.Cholesterol is the principal sterol synthesized by animals. All kinds of cells in animals can produce it. In vertebrates the hepatic cells typically produce greater amounts than other cells. It is almost completely absent among prokaryotes (bacteria and archaea), although there are some exceptions such as Mycoplasma, which require cholesterol for growth.
François Poulletier de la Salle first identified cholesterol in solid form in gallstones in 1769. However, it was not until 1815 that chemist Michel Eugène Chevreul named the compound "cholesterine".