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Biochemistry. 1992 Feb 25;31(7):2012-20.

Structure and cohesive properties of sphingomyelin/cholesterol bilayers.

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Department of Cell Biology, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina 27710.


Thermal, structural, and cohesive measurements have been obtained for both bovine brain sphingomyelin (BSM) and N-tetracosanoylsphingomyelin (C24-SM) in the presence and absence of cholesterol. A goal of these experiments has been to clarify the mechanisms responsible for the strong interaction between sphingomyelin and cholesterol. Differential scanning calorimetry shows that fully hydrated bilayers of BSM and C24-SM have main endothermic phase transitions at 39 and 46 degrees C, respectively, that reflect the melting of the acyl chains from a gel to a liquid-crystalline phase. For each lipid, the addition of cholesterol monotonically reduces the enthalpy of this transition, so that at equimolar cholesterol the transition enthalpy is zero. The addition of equimolar cholesterol to either BSM or C24-SM coverts the wide-angle X-ray diffraction reflection at 4.15 A to a broad band centered at 4.5 A. Electron density profiles of gel-phase C24-SM bilayers contain two terminal methyl dips in the center of the bilayer, indicating that the lipid hydrocarbon chains partially interdigitate so that the long saturated 24-carbon acyl chains in one monolayer cross the bilayer center and appose the shorter sphingosine chains from the other monolayer. The incorporation of cholesterol adds electron density to the hydrocarbon chain region near the head group and removes the double terminal methyl dip. These wide- and low-angle X-ray data indicate that cholesterol packs into the hydrocarbon chain region near the sphingomyelin head group, fluidizes the methylene chains near the center of the bilayer compared to the gel phase, and reduces the extent of methylene chain interdigitation.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS).

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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