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Mammalian ceramides constitute a family of at least a few hundred closely related molecules distinguished by small structural differences, giving rise to individual molecular species that are expressed in distinct cellular compartments, or tissue types, in which they are believed to execute distinct functions. We have examined how specific structural details influence the bilayer properties of a selection of biologically relevant ceramides in mixed bilayers together with sphingomyelin, phosphatidylcholine, and cholesterol. The ceramide structure varied with regard to interfacial hydroxylation, the identity of the headgroup, the length of the N-acyl chain, and the position of cis-double bonds in the acyl chains. The interactions of the ceramides with sphingomyelin, their lateral segregation into ceramide-rich domains in phosphatidylcholine bilayers, and the effect of cholesterol on such domains were studied with DSC and various fluorescence-based approaches. The largest differences arose from the presence and relative position of cis-double bonds, causing destabilization of the ceramide's interactions and lateral packing relative to common saturated and hydroxylated species. Less variation was observed as a consequence of interfacial hydroxylation and the N-acyl chain length, although an additional hydroxyl in the sphingoid long-chain base slightly destabilized the ceramide's interactions and packing relative to a nonhydroxyceramide, whereas an additional hydroxyl in the N-acyl chain had the opposite effect. In conclusion, small structural details conferred variance in the bilayer behavior of ceramides, some causing more dramatic changes in the bilayer properties, whereas others imposed only fine adjustments in the interactions of ceramides with other membrane lipids, reflecting possible functional implications in distinct cell or tissue types.
This article was published in the following journal.
Name: Biophysical journal
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