Structure of Cholesterol in Lipid Rafts
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Rafts, or functional domains, are transient nano-or mesoscopic structures in the plasma membrane and are thought to be essential for many cellular processes such as signal transduction, adhesion, trafficking, and lipid or protein sorting. Observations of these membrane heterogeneities have proven challenging, as they are thought to be both small and short lived. With a combination of coarse-grained molecular dynamics simulations and neutron diffraction using deuterium labeled cholesterol molecules, we observe raftlike structures and determine the ordering of the cholesterol molecules in binary cholesterol-containing lipid membranes. From coarse-grained computer simulations, heterogenous membranes structures were observed and characterized as small, ordered domains. Neutron diffraction was used to study the lateral structure of the cholesterol molecules. We find pairs of strongly bound cholesterol molecules in the liquid-disordered phase, in accordance with the umbrella model. Bragg peaks corresponding to ordering of the cholesterol molecules in the raftlike structures were observed and indexed by two different structures: a monoclinic structure of ordered cholesterol pairs of alternating direction in equilibrium with cholesterol plaques, i.e., triclinic cholesterol bilayers.
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