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J Exp Biol. 1997 Dec;200(Pt 23):2927-36.

Cell membrane lipid composition and distribution: implications for cell function and lessons learned from photoreceptors and platelets.

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Department of Molecular Biology, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, School of Osteopathic Medicine, Stratford, NJ 08084, USA.


Photoreceptor rod cells and blood platelets are remarkably different, yet both illustrate a similar phenomenon. Both are strongly affected by membrane cholesterol, and the distribution of cholesterol in the membranes of both cell types is determined by the lipid composition within the membranes. In rod cells, cholesterol strongly inhibits rhodopsin activity. The relatively higher level of cholesterol in the plasma membrane serves to inhibit, and thereby conserve, the activity of rhodopsin, which becomes fully active in the low-cholesterol environment of the disk membranes of these same cells. This physiologically important partitioning of cholesterol between disk membranes and plasma membranes occurs because the disk membranes are enriched with phosphatidylethanolamine, thus providing a thermodynamically unfavorable environment for the sterol. Cholesterol enrichment of platelets renders these cells more responsive to stimuli of aggregation. Stimuli for platelet aggregation cause a rapid transbilayer movement of cholesterol from the outer monolayer. This stimulus-dependent redistribution of cholesterol appears to result from the concomitant movement of phosphatidylethanolamine into the outer monolayer. The attractive, yet still unproven, hypothesis is that cholesterol translocation plays an important role in the overall platelet response and is intimately related to the sensitizing actions of cholesterol on these cells.

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