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Biophys J. 2002 Nov;83(5):2693-701.

Triton promotes domain formation in lipid raft mixtures.

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  • 1Biophysical Chemistry, Biozentrum der Universit├Ąt Basel, Klingelbergstrasse 70, CH-4056 Basel, Switzerland.


Biological membranes are supposed to contain functional domains (lipid rafts) made up in particular of sphingomyelin and cholesterol, glycolipids, and certain proteins. It is often assumed that the application of the detergent Triton at 4 degrees C allows the isolation of these rafts as a detergent-resistant membrane fraction. The current study aims to clarify whether and how Triton changes the domain properties. To this end, temperature-dependent transitions in vesicles of an equimolar mixture of 1-palmitoyl-2-oleoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine, egg sphingomyelin, and cholesterol were monitored at different Triton concentrations by differential scanning calorimetry and pressure perturbation calorimetry. Transitions initiated by the addition of Triton to the lipid mixture were studied by isothermal titration calorimetry, and the structure was investigated by (31)P-NMR. The results are discussed in terms of liquid-disordered (ld) and -ordered (lo) bilayer and micellar (mic) phases, and the typical sequence encountered with increasing Triton content or decreasing temperature is ld, ld + lo, ld + lo + mic, and lo + mic. That means that addition of Triton may create ordered domains in a homogeneous fluid membrane, which are, in turn, Triton resistant upon subsequent membrane solubilization. Hence, detergent-resistant membranes should not be assumed to resemble biological rafts in size, structure, composition, or even existence. Functional rafts may not be steady phenomena; they might form, grow, cluster or break up, shrink, and vanish according to functional requirements, regulated by rather subtle changes in the activity of membrane disordering or ordering compounds.

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