Phosphatidylcholine structure determines cholesterol solubility and lipid polymorphism Academic Article uri icon

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  • In the present work, we demonstrate that phosphatidylcholine with (16:1)9 acyl chains undergoes polymorphic rearrangements in mixtures with 0.6-0.8 mol fraction cholesterol. Studies were performed using differential scanning calorimetry, X-ray diffraction, cryo-electron microscopy, 31P NMR static powder patterns and 13C MAS/NMR. Mixtures of phosphatidylcholine with (16:1)9 acyl chains and 0.6 mol fraction cholesterol, after being heated to 100 degrees C, can form an ordered array with periodicity 14 nm which may be indicative of a cubic phase. Our results indicate that the formation of highly curved bilayer structures, such as those required for membrane fusion, can occur in mixtures of cholesterol with certain phosphatidylcholines that do not form non-lamellar structures in the absence of cholesterol. We also determine the polymorphic behavior of mixtures of symmetric phosphatidylcholines with cholesterol. Species of phosphatidylcholine with (20:1)11, (22:1)13 or (24:1)15 acyl chains in mixtures with 0.6-0.8 mol fraction cholesterol undergo a transition to the hexagonal phase at temperatures 70-80 degrees C. This is not the case for phosphatidylcholine with (18:1)6 acyl chains which remains in the lamellar phase up to 100 degrees C when mixed with as much as 0.8 mol fraction cholesterol. Thus, the polymorphic behavior of mixtures of phosphatidylcholine and cholesterol is not uncommon and is dependent on the intrinsic curvature of the phospholipid. Crystals of cholesterol can be detected in mixtures of all of these phosphatidylcholines at sufficiently high cholesterol mole fraction. What is unusual about the formation of these crystals in several cases is that cholesterol crystals are present in the monohydrate form in preference to the anhydrous form. Furthermore, after heating to 100 degrees C and recooling, the cholesterol crystals are again observed to be in the monohydrate form, although pure cholesterol crystals require many hours to rehydrate after being heated to 100 degrees C. Both the nature of the acyl chain as well as the mole fraction cholesterol determine whether cholesterol crystals in mixtures with the phospholipids will be in the monohydrate or in the anhydrous form.


  • Epand, Richard
  • Epand, Raquel F
  • Hughes, Donald W
  • Sayer, Brian G
  • Borochov, Nina
  • Bach, Diana
  • Wachtel, Ellen

publication date

  • May 2005