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Biochemistry. 1995 Sep 19;34(37):11928-37.

Fatty acid flip-flop in phospholipid bilayers is extremely fast.

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Department of Biophysics, Boston University School of Medicine, Massachusetts 02118, USA.


The rate of movement of fatty acids (FA) across phospholipid bilayers is an important consideration for their mechanism of transport across cell membranes but has not yet been measured. When FA move undirectionally across phospholipid bilayers, the rapid movement of un-ionized FA compared to ionized FA results in transport of protons. We have previously used this property to show that FA move spontaneously ("flip-flop") across the bilayer of small unilamellar vesicles within approximately 1 s (Kamp & Hamilton, 1992, 1993). This work extends the time resolution of this assay into the millisecond time range by use of stopped flow fluorometry. In small unilamellar vesicles (diameter, approximately 25 nm) at neutral pH, flip-flop of all fatty acids studied (lauric, myristic, palmitic, oleic, and stearic) was > or = 80% complete within 5-10 ms. In large unilamellar vesicles (diameter, approximately 100 nm), the same fatty acids exhibited fast flip-flop but with a measureable rate (t 1/2 = 23 +/- 12 ms). The calculated pseudounimolecular rate constant of the un-ionized FA (kFAH) approximately 15 s-1. There was no dependence of the flip-flop rate on the fatty acid chain length or structure. We also monitored the rate of desorption and transbilayer movement of (anthroyloxy)stearic acid in small unilamellar vesicles. Whereas previous studies suggested slow flip-flop of this FA analogue, the present studies suggest that (anthroyloxy)stearic acid flip-flops rapidly and that earlier studies did not truly measure the transbilayer movement step. These findings further support the view that proteins are not required for translocation of FA across cell membranes.

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