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Biophys J. 2006 Jun 15;90(12):4466-78. Epub 2006 Mar 24.

Galactosylceramide domain microstructure: impact of cholesterol and nucleation/growth conditions.

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Biophysics Graduate Group, Division of Biological Sciences, University of California, Davis, California 95616, USA.


Galactosylceramide (GalCer), a glycosphingolipid, is believed to exist in the extracellular leaflet of cell membranes in nanometer-sized domains or rafts. The local clustering of GalCer within rafts is thought to facilitate the initial adhesion of certain viruses, including HIV-1, and bacteria to cells through multivalent interactions between receptor proteins (gp120 for HIV-1) and GalCer. Here we use atomic force microscopy (AFM) to study the effects of cholesterol on solid-phase GalCer domain microstructure and miscibility with a fluid lipid 1,2-dilauroyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine (DLPC) in supported lipid bilayers. Using "slow-cooled vesicle fusion" to prepare the supported lipid bilayers, we were able to overcome the nonequilibrium effects of the substrate (verified by comparison to results for giant unilamellar vesicles) and accurately quantify the dramatic effect of cholesterol on the GalCer domain surface area/perimeter ratio (A(D)/P) and DLPC-GalCer miscibility. We compare these results to a supported lipid bilayer system in which the bilayer is rapidly cooled (nonequilibrium conditions), "quenched vesicle fusion", and find that the microstructures are remarkably similar above a cholesterol mol fraction of approximately 0.06. We determined that GalCer domains were contained in one leaflet distal to the mica substrate through qualitative binding experiments with Trichosanthes kirilowii agglutinin (TKA), a galactose-specific lectin, and AFM of Langmuir-Blodgett deposited GalCer/DLPC supported lipid bilayers. In addition, GalCer domains in bilayers containing cholesterol rearranged upon tip-sample contact. Our results further serve to clarify why discrepancies exist between different model membrane systems and between model membranes and cell membranes. In addition, these results offer new insight into the effect of cholesterol and surrounding lipid on domain microstructure and behavior. Finally, our observations may be pertinent to cell membrane structure, dynamics, and HIV infection.

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