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Biochim Biophys Acta. 2008 Oct;1778(10):2334-40. doi: 10.1016/j.bbamem.2008.06.005. Epub 2008 Jun 13.

Can membrane-bound carotenoid pigment zeaxanthin carry out a transmembrane proton transfer?

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Department of Biophysics, Institute of Biology, Maria Curie-Skłodowska University, Lublin, Poland.


Polar carotenoid pigment zeaxanthin (beta,beta-carotene-3,3'-diol) incorporated into planar lipid membranes formed with diphytanoyl phosphatidylcholine increases the specific electric resistance of the membrane from ca. 4 to 13 x 10(7) Omega cm2 (at 5 mol% zeaxanthin with respect to lipid). Such an observation is consistent with the well known effect of polar carotenoids in decreasing fluidity and structural stabilization of lipid bilayers. Zeaxanthin incorporated into the lipid membrane at 1 mol% has very small effect on the overall membrane resistance but facilitates equilibration of the transmembrane proton gradient, as demonstrated with the application of the H+-sensitive antimony electrodes. Relatively low changes in the electrical potential suggest that the equilibration process may be associated with a symport/antiport activity or with a transmembrane transfer of the molecules of acid. UV-Vis linear dichroism analysis of multibilayer formed with the same lipid-carotenoid system shows that the transition dipole moment of the pigment molecules forms a mean angle of 21 degrees with respect to the axis normal to the plane of the membrane. This means that zeaxanthin spans the membrane and tends to have its two hydroxyl groups anchored in the opposite polar zones of the membrane. Detailed FTIR analysis of beta-carotene and zeaxanthin indicates that the polyene chain of carotenoids is able to form weak hydrogen bonds with water molecules. Possible molecular mechanisms responsible for proton transport by polyenes are discussed, including direct involvement of the polyene chain in proton transfer and indirect effect of the pigment on physical properties of the membrane.

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