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J Clin Invest. 1977 Jul;60(1):115-21.

Decreased fluidity of red cell membrane lipids in abetalipoproteinemia.


Acanthocytic red cells in patients with abetalipoproteinemia are morphologically similar to the red cells in spur cell anemia. Fluidity of membrane lipids is decreased in spur cells due to their excess cholesterol content. Acanthocyte membranes have an increased content of sphingomyelin and a decreased content of lecithin. To assess the effect of this abnormality of acanthocyte membrane lipid composition on membrane fluidity, we studied red cells from five patients with abetalipoproteinemia and four obligate heterozygote family members. Membrane fluidity was measured in terms of microviscosity ( eta) at 37 degrees C, assessed by means of the fluorescence polarization of 1,6-diphenyl-1,3,5-hexatriene. It was increased from 3.2+/-0.1 poise in normals to 4.01-4.14 poise in acanthocytes. This was associated with an increase in the sphingomyelin/lecithin ratio from 0.84+/-0.08 in normals in 1.45-1.61 in acanthocytes. The eta of acanthocyte membranes was not influenced by the degree of vitamin E deficiency. Similar changes in eta were observed in liposomes prepared from red cell lipids. Heterozygotes had normal sphingomyelin/lecithin ratios and normal values for eta. The flow activation energy for viscosity, a measure of the degree of order in the hydrophobic portion of the membrane, was decreased from 8.3 kcal/mole in normal red cells to 7.2 kcal/mole in acanthocytes, indicating that acanthocyte membrane lipids are more ordered. Variations in the sphingomyelin/lecithin mole ratio of liposomes prepared from brain sphingomyelin and egg lecithin with equimolar cholesterol caused similar changes in both eta and activation energy. The deformability of acanthocytes, assessed by means of filtration through 3-mum filters, was decreased. These studies indicate that the increased sphingomyelin/lecithin ratio of acanthocytes is responsible for their decreased membrane fluidity. As in spur cells and in red cells enriched with cholesterol in vitro, this decrease in membrane fluidity occurs coincidentally with an abnormality in cell contour and an impairment in cell deformability.

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