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Biophys J. 1993 Feb;64(2):399-412.

Percolation and diffusion in three-component lipid bilayers: effect of cholesterol on an equimolar mixture of two phosphatidylcholines.

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Department of Biochemistry, University of Virginia School of Medicine, Charlottesville 22908.


The lateral diffusion of a phospholipid probe is studied in bilayers of binary mixtures of dimyristoylphosphatidylcholine (DMPC)/cholesterol and distearoylphosphatidylcholine (DSPC)/cholesterol and in the ternary system DMPC/DSPC/cholesterol using fluorescence recovery after photobleaching. An approximate phase diagram for the ternary system, as a function of temperature and cholesterol concentration, was obtained using differential scanning calorimetry and the phase diagrams of the binary systems. This phase diagram is similar to those of the phospholipid/cholesterol binary mixtures. In bilayers where solid and liquid phases coexist, the diffusion results are interpreted in terms of phase percolation. The size of the liquid-phase domains is estimated using percolation theory. In the ternary system, addition of cholesterol up to approximately 20 mol% shifts the percolation threshold to lower area fractions of liquid, but the size of the liquid-phase domains does not change. Above approximately 20 mol% cholesterol, the liquid phase is always connected. The size of solid-phase domains clusters is estimated using a model recently developed (Almeida, P.F.F., W.L.C. Vaz, and T.E. Thompson. 1992. Biochemistry. 31:7198-7210). For cholesterol concentrations up to 20 mol%, the size of solid-phase domain units does not change. Beyond 20 mol%, cholesterol causes the size of the solid units to decrease.

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