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Biophys J. 2008 Sep 15;95(6):2867-79. doi: 10.1529/biophysj.108.129858. Epub 2008 Jun 27.

Membrane domain formation, interdigitation, and morphological alterations induced by the very long chain asymmetric C24:1 ceramide.

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Centro de Química-Física Molecular, Instituto Superior Técnico, 1049-001 Lisbon, Portugal.


Ceramide (Cer) is involved in the regulation of several biological processes, such as apoptosis and cell signaling. The alterations induced by Cer in the biophysical properties of membranes are thought to be one of the major routes of Cer action. To gain further knowledge about the alterations induced by Cer, membrane reorganization by the very long chain asymmetric nervonoylceramide (NCer) was studied. The application of an established fluorescence multiprobe approach, together with x-ray diffraction, differential scanning calorimetry, and confocal fluorescence microscopy, allowed the characterization of NCer and the determination of the phase diagram of palmitoyloleoylphosphatidylcholine (POPC)/NCer binary mixtures. Nervonoylceramide undergoes a transition from a mixed interdigitated gel phase to a partially interdigitated gel phase at approximately 20 degrees C, and a broad main transition to the fluid phase at approximately 52 degrees C. The solubility of NCer in the fluid POPC is low, driving gel-fluid phase separation, and the binary-phase diagram is characterized by multiple and large coexistence regions between the interdigitated gel phases and the fluid phase. At 37 degrees C, the relevant phases are the fluid and the partially interdigitated gel. Moreover, the formation of NCer interdigitated gel phases leads to strong morphological alterations in the lipid vesicles, driving the formation of cochleate-type tubular structures.

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