Membrane permeability to macromolecules mediated by the membrane attack complex

Justine A. Malinski, Gary L. Nelsestuen

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26 Scopus citations


A simple and well-defined system of purified phospholipids and human complement proteins was used to study membrane permeability to macromolecules mediated by the membrane attack complex (MAC) of complement. Large unilamellar vesicles (LUVs) of phosphatidylcholine (PC) or phosphatidylserine (PS) containing trapped macromolecules [bovine pancreatic trypsin inhibitor (BPTI), thrombin, glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD), and larger molecules] were used to monitor permeability. Membrane permeability to macromolecules was measured by thrombin inhibition by an external inhibitor or by separation of released molecules by gel filtration. Membrane-bound intermediates (C5b-8 or C5b-93) were stable for hours, and macromolecular permeability occurred without fragmentation, fusion, or aggregation of the vesicles. Quantitative membrane binding by C5b-7 as well as essentially quantitative release of thrombin was obtained for PS vesicles. MAC binding to PS-LUVs approximated the theoretical Poisson distribution curve for full release of vesicle contents by one complex per vesicle. Reactions with PC-LUVs occurred with some fluid-phase MAC assembly. Therefore, results from experiments with these vesicles were interpreted in a relative manner. However, the values obtained closely corroborated those obtained with PS-LUVs. At low C9/C5b-8 ratios, the size of the lesion was proportional to the C9 content of the MAC. Half-maximum release of BPTI, thrombin, and G6PD, by a single MAC per vesicle, required approximately 3, 5, and 7 C9/C5b-8 (mol/mol), respectively. Larger molecules (≥118-Å diameter) were not released from the vesicles. Release of G6PD (95.4-Å diameter) required 45% of saturating C9. Therefore, it appeared that the last half of the bound C9 molecules did not increase pore size and the pore which released G6PD approached the diameter of the closed circular lesion measured (by others) in electron micrographs (∼100 Å). The results were consistent with the formation of a stable membrane pore by a single complex per vesicle in which C9 molecules line only one side of the pore at low C9/C5b-8 ratios and maximum pore size is attained by incomplete, noncircular polymers of C9.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)61-70
Number of pages10
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1989


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