The Journal of Membrane Biology

, Volume 192, Issue 3, pp 203–215

The macrolide antibiotic azithromycin interacts with lipids and affects membrane organization and fluidity: Studies on langmuir-blodgett monolayers, liposomes and J774 macrophages

  • D. Tyteca
  • A. Schanck
  • Y. F. Dufrêne
  • M. Deleu
  • P. J. Courtoy
  • P. M. Tulkens
  • M. P. Mingeot-Leclercq

DOI: 10.1007/s00232-002-1076-7

Cite this article as:
Tyteca, D., Schanck, A., Dufrêne, Y.F. et al. J. Membrane Biol. (2003) 192: 203. doi:10.1007/s00232-002-1076-7


The macrolide antibiotic azithromycin was shown to markedly inhibit endocytosis. Here we investigate the interaction of azithromycin with biomembranes and its effects on membrane biophysics in relation to endocytosis. Equilibrium dialysis and 31P NMR revealed that azithromycin binds to lipidic model membranes and decreases the mobility of phospholipid phosphate heads. In contrast, azithromycin had no effect deeper in the bilayer, based on fluorescence polarization of TMA-DPH and DPH, compounds that, respectively, explore the interfacial and hydrophobic domains of bilayers, and it did not induce membrane fusion, a key event of vesicular trafficking. Atomic force microscopy showed that azithromycin perturbed lateral phase separation in Langmuir-Blodgett monolayers, indicating a perturbation of membrane organization in lateral domains. The consequence of azithromycin/phospholipid interaction on membrane endocytosis was next evaluated in J774 macrophages by using three tracers with different insertion preferences inside the biological membranes and intracellular trafficking: C6-NBD-SM, TMA-DPH and N-Rh-PE. Azithromycin differentially altered their insertion into the plasma membrane, slowed down membrane trafficking towards lysosomes, as evaluated by the rate of N-Rh-PE self-quenching relief, but did not affect bulk membrane internalization of C6-NBD-SM and TMA-DPH. Azithromycin also decreased plasma membrane fluidity, as shown by TMA-DPH fluorescence polarization and confocal microscopy after labeling by fluorescent concanavalin A. We conclude that azithromycin directly interacts with phospholipids, modifies biophysical properties of membrane and affects membrane dynamics in living cells. This antibiotic may therefore help to elucidate the physico-chemical properties underlying endocytosis.

Key words

Azithromycin Lipids AFM Endocytosis Macrophages Membrane 



6-((N-(7-nitrobenz-2-oxa-1,3-diazol-4-yl)amino)hexanoyl) sphingosyl phosphocholine

N- Rh- PE

N-(lissamine rhodamine B sulfonyl) diacyl phosphatidylethanolamine;






octadecylrhodamine B


atomic force microscopy


multilamellar vesicles


large unilamellar vesicles


small unilamellar vesicles



Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • D. Tyteca
    • 1
  • A. Schanck
    • 2
  • Y. F. Dufrêne
    • 3
  • M. Deleu
    • 4
  • P. J. Courtoy
    • 5
    • 6
  • P. M. Tulkens
    • 1
  • M. P. Mingeot-Leclercq
    • 1
  1. 1.Unité de Pharmacologie Cellulaire et MoléculaireUniversité Catholique de LouvainBrusselsBelgium
  2. 2.Unité de Chimie Structurale et des Mécanismes RéactionnelsUniversité Catholique de LouvainLouvain-la-NeuveBelgium
  3. 3.Unité de Chimie des InterfacesUniversité Catholique de LouvainLouvain-la-NeuveBelgium
  4. 4.Unité de Chimie Biologique IndustrielleFaculté Universitaire des Sciences Agronomiques de GemblouxGemblouxBelgium
  5. 5.Unité de Biologie CellulaireUniversité Catholique de LouvainBrusselsBelgium
  6. 6.Christian de Duve Institute of Cellular PathologyBrusselsBelgium

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