The influence of a phospholipid transmembrane redistribution on the shape of nonspherical flaccid vesicles was investigated at a fixed temperature by optical microscopy. In a first series of experiments, a transmembrane pH gradient was imposed on egg phosphatidylcholine (EPC)-egg phosphatidylglycerol (EPG) (100:1) giant vesicles. The delta pH induced an asymmetric distribution of EPG. Simultaneously, discoid vesicles were transformed into tubular or a series of connected small vesicles. The fraction of phospholipid transfer necessary for a shape change from discoid to two connected vesicles was of the order of 0.1% of the total phospholipids. Additional lipid redistribution was accompanied by a sequence of shape changes. In a second series of experiments, lyso phosphatidylcholine (L-PC) was added to, or subtracted from, the external leaflet of giant EPC vesicles. The addition of L-PC induced a change from discoid to a two-vesicle state without further evolution, suggesting that lipid transfer and lipid addition are not equivalent. L-PC depletion from the outer leaflet generated stomatocyte-like vesicles. Whenever possible, we have determined whether the giant vesicles undergoing shape changes were unilamellar or multilamellar by measuring the elastic area compressibility modulus, K, by the micropipette assay (Kwok and Evans, 1981). Shape transformations triggered by phospholipid modification of the most external bilayer were indeed influenced by the presence of other underlying membranes that played a role comparable to that of a passive cytoskeleton layer. It appears that in real cells, invaginations of the plasma membrane or budding of organelles could be triggered by a phospholipid transfer from one leaflet to the other caused, for instance, by the aminophospholipid translocase which is present in eukaryotic membranes. © 1992, The Biophysical Society. All rights reserved.
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