The currently accepted model of biological membranes involves a heterogeneous, highly dynamic organization, where certain lipids and proteins associate to form cooperative platforms (“rafts”) for cellular signaling or transport processes. Ceramides, a lipid species occurring under conditions of cellular stress and apoptosis, are considered to stabilize these platforms, thus modulating cellular function. The present study focuses on a previously unrecognized effect of ceramide generation. In agreement with previous studies, we find that ceramide leads to a depletion of sphingomyelin from mixtures with palmitoyl oleoyl phosphatidylcholine bilayers, forming a ceramide–sphingomyelin-rich gel phase that coexists with a fluid phase rich in palmitoyl oleoyl phosphatidylcholine. Interestingly, however, this latter phase has an almost fourfold smaller bending rigidity compared to a sphingomyelin–palmitoyl oleoyl phosphatidylcholine mixture lacking ceramide. The significant change of membrane bulk properties can have severe consequences for conformational equilibria of membrane proteins. We discuss these effects in terms of the lateral pressure profile concept for a simple geometric model of an ion channel and find a significant inhibition of its activity.
The Journal of Membrane Biology – Springer Journals
Published: Oct 31, 2009
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