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Biophys J. 2003 May;84(5):3102-10.

Cholesterol in bilayers of sphingomyelin or dihydrosphingomyelin at concentrations found in ocular lens membranes.

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Department of Biochemistry, McMaster University, Health Sciences Center, Hamilton, Ontario L8N 3Z5, Canada.


Membranes of the lens of the eye of mammals have two particular characteristics, high concentrations of sphingomyelin, and dihydrosphingomyelin and cholesterol. We have studied the miscibility of cholesterol with both egg sphingomyelin and with dihydrosphingomyelin made by hydrogenation of egg sphingomyelin. At a cholesterol mol fraction of 0.5 and lower, crystallites of cholesterol are not present with either form of sphingomyelin, as observed by differential scanning calorimetry and by (13)C CP/MAS NMR. However, in the range of 0.6 to 0.8 mol fraction of cholesterol increasing amounts of crystallites form, with the amount of anhydrous cholesterol crystals formed being somewhat greater with dihyrosphingomyelin compared with sphingomyelin. Interestingly, cholesterol monohydrate crystallites formed in these two phospholipids exhibit a temperature of dehydration higher than that of pure cholesterol monohydrate crystals. These cholesterol monohydrate crystals form more rapidly and in greater amounts with the unmodified form of sphingomyelin. This difference is likely a consequence of differences at the membrane interface. The chemical shift of the (13)C of the carbonyl group, as measured by CP/MAS NMR, shows that there are differences between the two phospholipids in both the presence and absence of cholesterol. The bilayers with dihydrosphingomyelin are more hydrogen bonded. Cholesterol crystallites are known to be present in the lens of the eye. Our studies show that the ratio of sphingomyelin to dihydrosphingomyelin can affect the rate of formation of these cholesterol crystallites and thus play a role in the membrane of cells of the lens, affecting ocular function.

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