Enigmatic thermotropic phase behavior of highly asymmetric mixed-chain phosphatidylcholines that form mixed-interdigitated gel phases

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Twelve saturated mixed-chain phosphatidylcholines have been identified for which the thermotropic phase behavior observed upon cooling from the L alpha phase is dependent upon the thermal history of the sample in the gel phase. If fully hydrated samples of these lipids are cooled and soon thereafter examined by differential scanning calorimetry, one observes a single highly cooperative endotherm (the chain-melting phase transition) upon heating, and on subsequent cooling, a single exotherm that may occur at temperatures as much as 4–6 degrees C below that of the single endotherm observed upon heating. In contrast, if the samples are incubated in the gel state at low temperatures for prolonged periods of time, one observes a single heating endotherm as before, but two sharp exotherms upon cooling. The latter transitions occur at temperatures close to that of the single endotherm observed upon heating and the single cooling exotherm observed prior to incubation in the gel state. The combined enthalpy of the two cooling exotherms is the same as that of the single heating endotherm or the single cooling exotherm initially observed. Infrared spectroscopic and X-ray diffraction studies indicate that the structural conversions characteristic of liquid-crystalline/gel phase transitions occur at both of those cooling exotherms. Of the 12 lipids that exhibit this unusual behavior, nine fulfill the previously defined structural requirements for the formation of the so-called mixed-interdigitated gel phase, and there is evidence in the literature that one of the three remaining lipids also forms such a structure. Infrared spectroscopic studies of the other two lipids indicate that their gel phases exhibit spectroscopic features that closely resemble those of lipids that meet the previously defined structural criteria for the formation of mixed-interdigitated gel phases and that differ markedly from those of both saturated symmetric-chain and saturated mixed-chain phosphatidylcholines that do not normally form mixed-interdigitated gel phases. Also, electron density reconstructions based on small-angle X-ray diffraction studies of the gel phases of those two lipids indicate that the thickness of their gel phase bilayers is consistent with their forming mixed-interdigitated gel phases. Thus the unusual thermotropic phase behavior described here may be a general characteristic of phosphatidylcholines that form mixed-interdigitated gel phases. This unusual behavior is not associated with any major change in any of several physical properties of these lipid bilayers but may arise from an alteration of the size and/or structure of microdomains present in the liquid-crystalline phase. © 1994, The Biophysical Society. All rights reserved.




Lewis, R. N., McElhaney, R. N., Osterberg, F., & Gruner, S. M. (1994). Enigmatic thermotropic phase behavior of highly asymmetric mixed-chain phosphatidylcholines that form mixed-interdigitated gel phases. Biophysical Journal, 66(1), 207–216. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0006-3495(94)80764-7

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