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Biophys J. 1997 Jun;72(6):2413-29.

Two-photon fluorescence microscopy of laurdan generalized polarization domains in model and natural membranes.

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Istituto di Medicina Sperimentale, CNR, Rome, Italy.


Two-photon excitation microscopy shows coexisting regions of different generalized polarization (GP) in phospholipid vesicles, in red blood cells, in a renal tubular cell line, and in purified renal brushborder and basolateral membranes labeled with the fluorescent probe laurdan. The GP function measures the relative water content of the membrane. In the present study we discuss images obtained with polarized laser excitation, which selects different molecular orientations of the lipid bilayer corresponding to different spatial regions. The GP distribution in the gel-phase vesicles is relatively narrow, whereas the GP distribution in the liquid-crystalline phase vesicles (DOPC and DLPC) is broad. Analysis of images obtained with polarized excitation of the liquid-crystalline phase vesicles leads to the conclusion that coexisting regions of different GP must have dimensions smaller than the microscope resolution (approximately 200 nm radially and 600 nm axially). Vesicles of an equimolar mixture of DOPC and DPPC show coexisting rigid and fluid domains (high GP and low GP), but the rigid domains, which are preferentially excited by polarized light, have GP values lower than the pure gel-phase domains. Cholesterol strongly modifies the domain morphology. In the presence of 30 mol% cholesterol, the broad GP distribution of the DOPC/DPPC equimolar sample becomes narrower. The sample is still very heterogeneous, as demonstrated by the separations of GP disjoined regions, which are the result of photoselection of regions of different lipid orientation. In intact red blood cells, microscopic regions of different GP can be resolved, whereas in the renal cells GP domains have dimensions smaller than the microscope resolution. Preparations of renal apical brush border membranes and basolateral membranes show well-resolved GP domains, which may result from a different local orientation, or the domains may reflect a real heterogeneity of these membranes.

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