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Biochim Biophys Acta. 1988 Jun 9;947(2):367-84.

Interactions of sugars with membranes.

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Department of Zoology, University of California, Davis 95616.


Water profoundly affects the stability of biological membranes, and its removal leads to destructive events including fusion and liquid crystalline to gel phase transitions. In heterogeneous mixtures such as those found in biological membranes the phase transitions can lead to increases in permeability and lateral phase separations that often are irreparable. Certain sugars are capable of preventing these deleterious events by inhibiting fusion during drying and by maintaining the lipid in a fluid state in the absence of water. As a result, the increased permeability and lateral phase separations that accompany dehydration are absent. The weight of the evidence suggests strongly that there is a direct interaction between the sugars and lipids in the dry state. Although the evidence is less clear about whether these sugars can interact directly with hydrated bilayers, there are strong suggestions in the literature that sugars free in solution or covalently linked to membrane constituents can also affect the physical properties and presumably the stability of bilayers. Finally, we have far less evidence concerning the mechanism by which they do so, but the same sugars are also capable of preserving the structure and function of both membrane-bound and soluble proteins in the absence of water. We believe these effects may be important in the survival of intact cells and organisms such as seeds in the absence of water. Furthermore, in view of the practical importance of preserving biological structures we suspect that the results described here will ultimately have important applications in biology and medicine.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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