Bilayer lipids influence the lateral structure of the membranes, but the relationship between lipid properties and the lateral structure formed is not always understood. Model membrane studies on bilayers containing cholesterol and various phospholipids (PLs) suggest that high and low temperature melting PLs may segregate, especially in the presence of cholesterol. The effect of different PL headgroups on lateral structure of bilayers is also not clear. Here, we have examined the formation of lateral heterogeneity in increasingly complex (up to five-component) multilamellar bilayers. We have used time-resolved fluorescence spectroscopy with domain-selective fluorescent probes (PL-conjugated trans-parinaric acid), and 2H NMR spectroscopy with site or perdeuterated PLs. We have measured changes in bilayer order using such domain-selective probes both as a function of temperature and composition. Our results from time-resolved fluorescence and 2H NMR showed that in ternary bilayers, acyl chain order and thermostability in sphingomyelin-rich domains were not affected to any greater extent by the headgroup structure of the monounsaturated PLs (phosphatidylcholine, phosphatidylethanolamine, or phosphatidylserine) in the bilayer. In the complex five-component bilayers, we could not detect major differences between the different monounsaturated PLs regarding cholesterol-induced ordering. However, cholesterol clearly influenced deuterated N-palmitoyl sphingomyelin differently than the other deuterated PLs, suggesting that cholesterol favored N-palmitoyl sphingomyelin over the other PLs. Taken together, both the fluorescence spectroscopy and 2H NMR data suggest that the complex five-component membranes displayed lateral heterogeneity, at least in the lower temperature regimen examined.
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