Red blood cell membrane fluidity in the etiology of multiple sclerosis

J Membr Biol. 2009 Dec;232(1-3):25-34. doi: 10.1007/s00232-009-9213-1. Epub 2009 Nov 14.


Organisms adjust the order, or fluidity, of their cellular membranes in response to changes in their physiochemical environment by adjusting the lipid composition of their membranes. We investigated membrane fluidity using the phospholipid, fatty acid and cholesterol content of red blood cells (RBCs) from multiple sclerosis (MS) patients and correlated this with C-reactive protein (CRP) as well as with the severity of neurological outcome as measured by the Kurtzke Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS) and its Functional System Scores. The study group consisted of 31 patients with MS and 30 healthy control subjects. Phospholipids were determined using a colorimetric assay, fatty acids by gas chromatography, cholesterol by an enzymatic assay and CRP by a Beckman nephelometer. Cell membrane fluidity was calculated according to previously established formulae. RBC membrane fluidity as measured by the saturated to polyunsaturated fatty acid ratio was higher in patients than in controls (P = 0.04). The phosphatidylethanolamine saturated to polyunsaturated fatty acid ratio showed highly significant positive correlations with the EDSS and CRP < 5 microg/ml. CRP showed significant inverse correlations with the saturated nature but positive correlations with the ordered-crystalline-phase to liquid-crystalline-phase lipid ratio. In this study we show that membrane fluidity as measured by the relationship between membrane fatty acids, phospholipids and cholesterol is closely interrelated with inflammation and disease outcome in patients with MS. In conclusion, our findings suggest that the membrane lipid composition of patients with MS and, consequently, membrane fluidity are altered, which seems to be influenced by the inflammatory status.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • C-Reactive Protein / metabolism
  • Cholesterol / blood
  • Erythrocyte Deformability
  • Erythrocyte Membrane / chemistry*
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / blood
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Membrane Fluidity*
  • Membrane Lipids / blood
  • Multiple Sclerosis / blood*
  • Multiple Sclerosis / etiology*
  • Phosphatidylethanolamines / blood


  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated
  • Membrane Lipids
  • Phosphatidylethanolamines
  • phosphatidylethanolamine
  • C-Reactive Protein
  • Cholesterol