Fluorescence evidence for cholesterol regular distribution in phosphatidylcholine and in sphingomyelin lipid bilayers

Parkson Lee Gau Chong, Fang Liu, Mei Mei Wang, Khanh Truong, Istvan P. Sugar, Rhoderick E. Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Our previous studies indicated that sterols (including cholesterol and dehydroergosterol) can be regularly distributed into hexagonal superlattices in the plane of liquid-crystalline phosphatidylcholine bilayers. It was suggested that regular and irregular regions coexist in the membrane. In the present study, we report supporting evidence for our sterol regular distribution model. We have examined the fractional concentration dependencies of dehydroergosterol (a naturally occurring cholesterol analogue) fluorescence intensity and lifetime in various phosphatidylcholine and sphingomyelin bilayers. Fluorescence intensity and lifetime dips have been observed at specific sterol mole fractions. At those mole fractions, the acrylamide quenching rate constant of dehydroergosterol fluorescence reaches a local maximum. Those mole fractions match the critical sterol mole fractions at which sterol molecules are expected to be regularly distributed into hexagonal superlattices. The results support the idea that the sterols in the regular region are embedded in the bilayer less deep than those in the irregular regions. We have also examined the fractional cholesterol concentration dependencies of diphenylhexatriene (DPH) fluorescence intensity, lifetime, and polarization in DMPC vesicles. DPH fluorescence intensity and polarization also exhibit distinct dips and peaks, respectively, at critical sterol mole fractions for hexagonal superlattices. However, DPH lifetime changes little with sterol mole fraction. As a comparison, the fluorescence properties of DHE and DPH behave differently in response to the formation of sterol regular distribution. Furthermore, finding evidence for sterol regular distribution in both phosphatidylcholine and sphingomyelin membranes raises the possibility that sterol regular distribution may occur within phospholipid/cholesterol enriched domains of real biological membranes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)221-230
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Fluorescence
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1996
Externally publishedYes


  • Cholesterol
  • Dehydroergosterol
  • Diphenylhexatriene
  • Phospholipids
  • Regular distribution, membranes
  • Sterol lateral organization


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