Phosphatidylserine plasma membrane asymmetry in vivo: a pancellular phenomenon which alters during apoptosis

Cell Death Differ. 1997 May;4(4):311-6. doi: 10.1038/sj.cdd.4400241.


The distribution of phospholipids across the two leaflets of the plasma membrane is important for many cellular processes including phagocytosis and hemostasis. In the present study we investigated the in vivo plasma membrane distribution of the aminophospholipid phosphatidylserine in mouse embryos with a novel technique employing Annexin V, a Ca2+ dependent phosphatidylserine binding protein, conjugated to fluorescein isothiocyanate and biotin. Annexin V directly applied to cryostat sections labeled the plasma membrane of all cells at the interface. In contrast, Annexin V injected intracardially into viable mouse embryos labeled almost exclusively apoptotic cells. These apoptotic cells were visible in all tissues and derived from all germ layers. Our experiments demonstrate that phosphatidylserine is asymmetrically distributed between the two leaflets of the plasma membrane in virtually all cell types in vivo and that this asymmetry is lost early during apoptosis.