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Biophys J. 2009 Jun 3;96(11):4631-41. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2009.03.003.

A novel fluorescent probe that senses the physical state of lipid bilayers.

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Department of Physiology and Biophysics, University of California at Irvine, Irvine, California, USA.


Cell membrane lipids and proteins are heterogeneously distributed in the membrane plane. In recent years, much attention has been paid to the heterogeneous distribution of the lipid components, particularly the formation of cholesterol-rich domains that are thought to be important in signaling processes. This has led to renewed interest in the phase diagrams of complex lipid mixtures, such as three-component mixtures containing phospholipids and cholesterol. We report here a novel fluorescent probe (NBD-R595) that is useful for exploring the phase behaviors of one-, two-, and three-component large unilamellar vesicles. In one-component fluid-phase membranes, the probe has the expected spectral characteristic of monomeric 7-nitrobenzo-2-oxa-1,3-diazol, with a fluorescence maximum of 540 nm when excited at 470 nm. But below the gel-to-liquid crystalline phase transition temperature, an additional emission peak appears at approximately 610 nm, because of Förster resonance energy transfer from NBD-R595 monomers to NBD-R595 Jelley aggregates of limited size formed by the association of 7-nitrobenzo-2-oxa-1,3-diazol moieties. This may be the first report of Förster resonance energy transfer from a single fluorophore in two different physical states. In a test of the probe, we found NBD-R595 to be remarkably sensitive to the molar composition of large unilamellar vesicles formed from cholesterol, distearoylphosphatidylcholine, and dioleoylphosphatidylcholine.

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