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Membrane lipid order of human red blood cells is altered by physiological levels of hydrostatic pressure

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The effect of hydrostatic Dressure at levels applied in diving or hyperbaric treatment (thus considered "physiological") on the order of lipid domains in human red blood cell (RBC) membrane was studied. Membrane order was determined by measuring 1 ) the fluorescence anisotropy (FAn) of lipid probes, 2) the resonance energy transfer from tryptophan to lipid probes, and 3) spectral shifts in Laurdan fluorescence emission. It was found that the application of mild pressure (<15 atm) 1) increased, selectively, the FAn of lipid probes that monitor the membrane lipid core, 2) increased the tryptophan FAn, 3) increased the resonance energy transfer from tryptophan to lipid probes residing in the lipid core, and 4) induced changes in the Laurdan fluorescence spectrum, which corresponded to reduced membrane hydration. It is proposed that the application of pressure of several atmospheres increases the phase order of membrane lipid domains, particularly in the proximity of proteins. Because the membrane lipid order ("fluidity") of RBCs plays an important role in their cellular and rheological functions, the pressure-induced alterations of the RBC membrane might be pertinent to microcirculatory disorders observed in humans subjected to elevated pressure. Copyright ©1997 the American Physiological Society.

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