Sphingomyelin Acyl Chains Influence the Formation of Sphingomyelin- and Cholesterol-Enriched Domains

Oskar Engberg, Kai-Lan Lin, Victor Hautala, J. Peter Slotte, Thomas K.M. Nyholm

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


The segregation of lipids into lateral membrane domains has been extensively studied. It is well established that the structural differences between phospholipids play an important role in lateral membrane organization. When a high enough cholesterol concentration is present in the bilayer, liquid-ordered (Lo) domains, which are enriched in cholesterol and saturated phospholipids such as sphingomyelin (SM), may form. We have recently shown that such a formation of domains can be facilitated by the affinity differences of cholesterol for the saturated and unsaturated phospholipids present in the bilayer. In mammalian membranes, the saturated phospholipids are usually SMs with different acyl chains, the abundance of which vary with cell type. In this study, we investigated how the acyl chain structure of SMs affects the formation of SM- and cholesterol-enriched domains. From the analysis of trans-parinaric acid fluorescence emission lifetimes, we could determine that cholesterol facilitated lateral segregation most with the SMs that had 16 carbon-long acyl chains. Using differential scanning calorimetry and Förster resonance energy transfer techniques, we observed that the SM- and cholesterol-enriched domains with 16 carbon-long SMs were most thermally stabilized by cholesterol. The Förster resonance energy transfer technique also suggested that the same SMs also form the largest Lo domains. In agreement with our previously published data, the extent of influence that cholesterol had on the propensity of lateral segregation and the properties of Lo domains correlated with the relative affinity of cholesterol for the phospholipids present in the bilayers. Therefore, the specific SM species present in the membranes, together with unsaturated phospholipids and cholesterol, can be used by the cell to fine-tune the lateral structure of the membranes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)913-923
Number of pages10
JournalBiophysical Journal
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2020
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


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