European Biophysics Journal

, Volume 33, Issue 6, pp 513–521

Modulation of the phase heterogeneity of aminoglycerophospholipid mixtures by sphingomyelin and monovalent cations: maintenance of the lamellar arrangement in the biological membranes


  • Cedric Tessier
    • Faculté de Médecine Saint AntoineInserm U538
  • Peter Quinn
    • Department of Life SciencesKing’s College London
  • Kamen Koumanov
    • Institute of BiophysicsBulgarian Academy of Sciences
  • Germain Trugnan
    • Faculté de Médecine Saint AntoineInserm U538
  • Dominique Rainteau
    • Faculté de Médecine Saint AntoineInserm U538
    • Faculté de Médecine Saint AntoineInserm U538

DOI: 10.1007/s00249-004-0392-5

Cite this article as:
Tessier, C., Quinn, P., Koumanov, K. et al. Eur Biophys J (2004) 33: 513. doi:10.1007/s00249-004-0392-5


The phase behaviour of mixed molecular species of phosphatidylethanolamine, phosphatidylserine and sphingomyelin of biological origin were examined in aqueous co-dispersions using synchrotron X-ray diffraction. The co-dispersions of phospholipids studied were aimed to model the mixing of lipids populating the cytoplasmic and outer leaflets in the resting or “scrambled” activated cell membrane. Mixtures enriched with phosphatidylethanolamine and phosphatidylserine were characterized by a phase separation of non-lamellar phases (cubic and inverted hexagonal) with a lamellar gel phase comprising the most saturated molecular species. Inclusion of sphingomyelin in the mixture resulted in a suppression of the hexagonal-II phase in favour of lamellar phases at temperatures where a proportion of the phospholipid was fluid. The effect was also dependent on the total amount of sphingomyelin in ternary mixtures, and the lamellar phase dominated in mixtures containing more than 30 mol%, irrespective of the relative proportions of phosphatidylserine/sphingomyelin. A transition from gel to liquid-crystal phase was detected by wide-angle scattering during heating scans of ternary mixtures enriched in sphingomyelin and was shown by thermal cycling experiments to be coupled with a hexagonal-II phase to lamellar transition. In such samples there was evidence of a coexistence of non-lamellar phases with a lamellar gel phase. A transition of the gel phase to the fluid state on heating from 35 to 41 °C was evidenced by a progressive increase in the lamellar d-spacing. The presence of calcium enhanced the phase separation of a lamellar gel phase from a hexagonal-II phase in mixtures enriched in phosphatidylserine. This effect was counteracted by charge screening with 150 mM NaCl. The effect of sphingomyelin on stabilizing the lamellar phase is discussed in the context of an altered composition in the cytoplasmic/outer leaflets of the plasma membrane resulting from scrambling of the phospholipid distribution. The results suggest that a lamellar structure can be retained by the inward translocation of sphingomyelin in biological membranes. The presence of monovalent cations serves also to stabilize the bilayer in activated cells where a translocation of aminoglycerophospholipids and an influx of calcium occur simultaneously.


Bilayer stabilityPhosphatidylethanolaminePhosphatidylserinePlasma membraneSphingomyelin









small-angle X-ray scattering




wide-angle X-ray scattering


X-ray diffraction

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© EBSA 2004