A lipid-specific toxin reveals heterogeneity of sphingomyelin-containing membranes

Biophys J. 2004 Jan;86(1 Pt 1):296-307. doi: 10.1016/S0006-3495(04)74105-3.


Little is known about the heterogenous organization of lipids in biological membranes. Sphingomyelin (SM) is a major plasma membrane lipid that forms lipid domains together with cholesterol and glycolipids. Using SM-specific toxin, lysenin, we showed that in cultured epithelial cells the accessibility of the toxin to SM is different between apical and basolateral membranes. Apical membranes are highly enriched with glycolipids. The inhibitory role of glycolipids in the binding of lysenin to SM was confirmed by comparing the glycolipid-deficient mutant melanoma cell line with its parent cell. Model membrane experiments indicated that glycolipid altered the local density of SM so that the affinity of the lipid for lysenin was decreased. Our results indicate that lysenin recognizes the heterogenous organization of SM in biomembranes and that the organization of SM differs between different cell types and between different membrane domains within the same cell. Isothermal titration calorimetry suggests that lysenin binding to SM is presumably the result of a SM-lysenin complex formation of specific stoichiometry, thus supporting the idea of the existence of small condensed lipid complexes consisting of just a few lipid molecules in living cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Membrane / drug effects
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism*
  • Cell Membrane / ultrastructure*
  • Dogs
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Epithelial Cells / drug effects
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism
  • Epithelial Cells / pathology
  • Liposomes / chemistry*
  • Melanoma / metabolism
  • Melanoma / pathology
  • Mice
  • Proteins / pharmacology*
  • Sphingomyelins / chemistry*
  • Sphingomyelins / metabolism*
  • Tissue Distribution
  • Toxins, Biological


  • Liposomes
  • Proteins
  • Sphingomyelins
  • Toxins, Biological
  • lysenin