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Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2011 Mar 18;406(3):320-5. doi: 10.1016/j.bbrc.2011.01.117. Epub 2011 Feb 12.

Effects of phenylpropanolamine (PPA) on in vitro human erythrocyte membranes and molecular models.

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Faculty of Chemical Sciences, University of Concepción, Concepción, Chile.


Norephedrine, also called phenylpropanolamine (PPA), is a synthetic form of the ephedrine alkaloid. After reports of the occurrence of intracranial hemorrhage and other adverse effects, including several deaths, PPA is no longer sold in USA and Canada. Despite the extensive information about PPA toxicity, reports on its effects on cell membranes are scarce. With the aim to better understand the molecular mechanisms of the interaction of PPA with cell membranes, ranges of concentrations were incubated with intact human erythrocytes, isolated unsealed human erythrocyte membranes (IUM), and molecular models of cell membranes. The latter consisted in bilayers built-up of dimyristoylphosphatidylcholine (DMPC) and dimyristoylphosphatidylethanolamine (DMPE), phospholipid classes present in the outer and inner monolayers of most plasmatic cell membranes, respectively. The capacity of PPA to perturb the bilayer structures of DMPC and DMPE was assessed by X-ray diffraction, DMPC large unilamellar vesicles (LUV) and IUM were studied by fluorescence spectroscopy, and intact human erythrocytes were observed by scanning electron microscopy (SEM). This study presents evidence that PPA affects human red cell membranes as follows: (a) in SEM studies on human erythrocytes it was observed that 0.5 mM PPA induced shape changes; (b) in IUM PPA induced a sharp decrease in the fluorescence anisotropy in the lipid bilayer acyl chains in a concentration range lower than 100 μM; (c) X-ray diffraction studies showed that PPA in the 0.1-0.5 mM range induced increasing structural perturbation to DMPC, but no effects on DMPE multibilayers were detected.

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