In any lipid bilayer membrane, there is an upper limit on the cholesterol concentration that can be accommodated within the bilayer structure; excess cholesterol will precipitate as crystals of pure cholesterol monohydrate. This cholesterol solubility limit is a well-defined quantity. It is a first-order phase boundary in the phospholipid/cholesterol phase diagram. There are many different solubility limits in the literature, but no clear picture has emerged that can unify the disparate results. We have studied the effects that different sample preparation methods can have on the apparent experimental solubility limit. We find that artifactual demixing of cholesterol can occur during conventional sample preparation and that this demixed cholesterol may produce artifactual cholesterol crystals. Therefore, phospholipid/cholesterol suspensions which are prepared by conventional methods may manifest variable, falsely low cholesterol solubility limits. We have developed two novel preparative methods which are specifically designed to prevent demixing during sample preparation. For detection of the cholesterol crystals, X-ray diffraction has proven to be quantitative and highly sensitive. Experiments based on these methods yield reproducible and precise cholesterol solubility limits: 66 mol% for phosphatidylcholine (PC) bilayers and 51 mol% for phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) bilayers. We present evidence that these are true, equilibrium values. In contrast to the dramatic headgroup effect (PC vs. PE), acyl chain variations had no effect on the cholesterol solubility limit in four different PC/cholesterol mixtures. Copyright (C) 1999 Elsevier Science B.V.
Huang, J., Buboltz, J. T., & Feigenson, G. W. (1999). Maximum solubility of cholesterol in phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylethanolamine bilayers. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta - Biomembranes, 1417(1), 89–100. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0005-2736(98)00260-0