To understand the role of sphingomyelinase (SMase) in the function of biological membranes, we have investigated the effect of conversion of sphingomyelin (SM) to ceramide (Cer) on the assembly of domains in giant unilamellar vesicles (GUVs). The GUVs were prepared from mixture of 1,2-dioleoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine (DOPC), N-palmitoly-d-erythro-sphingosine (C16Cer), N-palmitoyl-d-erythro-sphingosylphosphorylcholine (C16SM) and cholesterol. The amounts of DOPC, sum of C16Cer and C16SM, and cholesterol were kept constant (the ratio of these four lipids is shown as 1:X:1-X:1 (molar ratio), i.e., X is C16Cer/(C16Cer + C16SM)). Shape and distribution of domains formed in the GUVs were monitored by a fluorescent lipid, Texas Red 1,2-dihexadecanoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphoethanolamine (0.1 mol%). In GUVs containing low C16Cer (X = 0 and 0.25), round-shaped domains labeled by the fluorescent lipid were present, suggesting coexistence of liquid-ordered and disordered domains. In GUVs containing intermediate Cer concentration (X = 0.5), the fluorescent domain covered most of GUV surface, which was surrounded by gel-like domains. Differential scanning calorimetry of multilamellar vesicles prepared in the presence of higher Cer concentration (X ≥ 0.5) suggested existence of a Cer-enriched gel phase. Video microscopy showed that the enzymatic conversion of SM to Cer caused rapid change in the domain structure: several minutes after the SMase addition, the fluorescent region spread over the GUV surface, within which regions with darker contrast existed. Image-based measurement of generalized polarization (GP) of 6-dodecanoyl-2-dimethylaminonaphthalene (Laurdan), which is related to the acyl chain ordering of the lipids, was performed. Before the SMase treatment domains with high (0.65) and low (below 0.4) GP values coexisted, presumably reflecting the liquid-ordered and disordered domains; after the SMase treatment regions with intermediate GP values (0.5) and smaller regions with higher GP values (0.65) were present. Generation of Cer thus caused a phase transition from liquid-ordered and disordered phases to a gel and liquid phase.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cell Biology