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Cell Mol Biol Lett. 2008;13(3):430-51. doi: 10.2478/s11658-008-0012-y. Epub 2008 Apr 2.

The liquid-ordered phase in sphingomyelincholesterol membranes as detected by the discrimination by oxygen transport (DOT) method.

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Department of Biophysics, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, WI 53226, USA.


Membranes made from binary mixtures of egg sphingomyelin (ESM) and cholesterol were investigated using conventional and saturation-recovery EPR observations of the 5-doxylstearic acid spin label (5-SASL). The effects of cholesterol on membrane order and the oxygen transport parameter (bimolecular collision rate of molecular oxygen with the nitroxide spin label) were monitored at the depth of the fifth carbon in fluid- and gel-phase ESM membranes. The saturation-recovery EPR discrimination by oxygen transport (DOT) method allowed the discrimination of the liquid-ordered (l(o)), liquid-disordered (l(d)), and solid-ordered (s(o)) phases because the bimolecular collision rates of the molecular oxygen with the nitroxide spin label differ in these phases. Additionally, oxygen collision rates (the oxygen transport parameter) were obtained in coexisting phases without the need for their separation, which provides information about the internal dynamics of each phase. The addition of cholesterol causes a dramatic decrease in the oxygen transport parameter around the nitroxide moiety of 5-SASL in the l(o) phase, which at 50 mol% cholesterol becomes approximately 5 times smaller than in the pure ESM membrane in the l(d) phase, and approximately 2 times smaller than in the pure ESM membrane in the s(o) phase. The overall change in the oxygen transport parameter is as large as approximately 20-fold. Conventional EPR spectra show that 5-SASL is maximally immobilized at the phase boundary between regions with coexisting l(d) and l(o) phases or s(o) and l(o) phases and the region with a single l(o) phase. The obtained results allowed for the construction of a phase diagram for the ESM-cholesterol membrane.

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