The curvature and cholesterol content of phospholipid bilayers alter the transbilayer distribution of specific molecular species of phosphatidylethanolamine.


The curvature, cholesterol content, and transbilayer distribution of phospholipids significantly influence the functional properties of cellular membranes, yet little is known of how these parameters interact. In this study, the transbilayer distribution of phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) is determined in vesicles with large (98 nm) and small (19 nm) radii of curvature and with different proportions of PE, phosphatidylcholine, and cholesterol. It was found that the mean diameters of both types of vesicles were not influenced by their lipid composition, and that the amino-reactive compound 2,4,6-trinitrobenzenesulphonic acid (TNBS) was unable to cross the bilayer of either type of vesicle. When large vesicles were treated with TNBS, approximately 40% of the total membrane PE was derivatized; in the small vesicles 55% reacted. These values are interpreted as representing the percentage of total membrane PE residing in the outer leaflet of the vesicle bilayer. The large vesicles likely contained approximately 20% of the total membrane lipid as internal membranes. Therefore, in both types of vesicles, PE as a phospholipid class was randomly distributed between the inner and outer leaflets of the bilayer. The proportion of total PE residing in the outer leaflet was unaffected by changes in either the cholesterol or PE content of the vesicles. However, the transbilayer distributions of individual molecular species of PE were not random, and were significantly influenced by radius of curvature, membrane cholesterol content, or both. For example, palmitate- and docosahexaenoate-containing species of PE were preferentially located in the outer leaflet of the bilayer. Membrane cholesterol content affected the transbilayer distributions of stearate-, oleate-, and linoleate-containing species. The transbilayer distributions of palmitate-, docosahexaenoate-, and stearate-containing species were significantly influenced by membrane curvature, but only in the presence of high levels of cholesterol. Thus, differences in membrane curvature and cholesterol content alter the array of PE molecules present on the surfaces of phospholipid bilayers. In cells and organelles, these differences could have profound effects on a number of critical membrane functions and processes.

Cite this paper

@article{Williams2000TheCA, title={The curvature and cholesterol content of phospholipid bilayers alter the transbilayer distribution of specific molecular species of phosphatidylethanolamine.}, author={Ellen E Williams and Julian P. Cooper and William Stillwell and Laura J. Jenski}, journal={Molecular membrane biology}, year={2000}, volume={17 3}, pages={157-64} }