In cell membranes, local inhomogeneity in the lateral distribution of lipids and proteins is thought to exist in vivo in the form of lipid ‘rafts’, microdomains enriched in cholesterol and sphingolipids, and in specific classes of proteins, that appear to play specialized roles for signal transduction, cell-cell recognition, parasite or virus infection, and vesicular trafficking. These structures are operationally defined as membranes resistant to solubilization by nonionic detergents at 4°C (detergent-resistant membranes, DRMs). This definition appears to be necessary and sufficient, although additional manoeuvres, not always described with sufficient detail, may be needed to ensure isolation of DRMs, like mechanical homogenization, and changes in the pH and/or ionic strength of the solubilization medium. We show here for the human erythrocyte that the different conditions adopted may lead to the isolation of qualitatively and quantitatively different DRM fractions, thus contributing to the complexity of the notion itself of lipid raft. A significant portion of erythrocyte DRMs enriched in reported lipid raft markers, such as flotillin-1, flotillin-2 and GM1, is anchored to the spectrin membrane-skeleton via electrostatic interactions that can be disrupted by the simultaneous increase in pH and ionic strength of the solubilization medium.
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