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J Lipid Res. 1995 Sep;36(9):1945-55.

Physical properties of ceramides: effect of fatty acid hydroxylation.

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


The structural and thermotropic properties of alpha-hydroxy fatty acid (HFA) and non-hydroxy fatty acid (NFA) ceramides (CER) have been studied using differential scanning calorimetry (DSC) and X-ray diffraction techniques. The DSC of anhydrous HFA-CER shows a single, sharp reversible transition at 95.6 degrees C (delta H = 15.3 kcal/mol). At intermediate hydrations HFA-CER exhibited more complex behavior but at maximum hydration only a single reversible transition is observed at 80.0 degrees C (delta H = 8.5 kcal/mol). X-ray diffraction of hydrated (74% water) HFA-CER at 20 degrees C shows a lamellar structure with a bilayer periodicity d = 60.7 Angstrum; a single wide angle reflection at 4.2 Angstrum is characteristic of hexagonal chain packing. Above the main transition temperature at 91 degrees C, a hexagonal (HII) phase is observed. In contrast, DSC of anhydrous NFA-CER demonstrates two thermal transitions at 81.3 degrees C (delta H = 6.8 kcal/mol) and 85.9 degrees C (delta H = 3.5 kcal/mol). With increasing hydration, both transitions shift towards lower temperatures; at maximum hydration, on heating, the endothermic transitions occur at 72.7 degrees C (delta H = 9.8 kcal/mol) and 81.1 degrees C (delta H = 4.0 kcal/mol). On cooling, there is hysteresis of both transitions. X-ray diffraction of NFA-CER (80% water) at 20 degrees C shows a well-ordered lamellar structure with a bilayer periodicity d = 58.6 Angstrum and three wide-angle reflections at 4.6 Angstrum, 4.2 Angstrum, and 3.8 Angstrum. At 77 degrees C (between the two transitions), again a lamellar structure exists with reduced bilayer periodicity d = 53.1 Angstrum and four wide-angle reflections at 4.6 Angstrum, 4.2 Angstrum, and 3.8 Angstrum are observed. Above the second transition, only a single low angle reflection at 30.0 Angstrum is observed; a diffuse reflection at 4.6 Angstrum is indicative of a melted chain phase. Thus, HFA-CER exhibits a simple phase behavior involving the reversible conversion of a gel phase to a hexagonal phase (L beta-->HII). However, NFA-CER shows a more complex polymorphic phase behavior involving two gel phases.

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