In a combined chemical biological and biophysical approach, we studied the partitioning of differently fluorescent-labeled palmitoyl and/or farnesyl lipidated peptides, which represent membrane recognition model systems, as well as the full lipidated N-Ras protein into various model membrane systems including canonical model raft mixtures. To this end, two-photon fluorescence microscopy on giant unilamellar vesicles, complemented by tapping-mode atomic force microscopy (AFM) measurements, was carried out. The measurements were performed over a wide temperature range, ranging from 30 to 80 degrees C to cover different lipid phase states (solid-ordered (gel), fluid/gel, liquid-ordered/liquid-disordered, all-fluid). The results provide direct evidence that partitioning of the lipidated peptides and N-Ras occurs preferentially into liquid-disordered lipid domains, which is also reflected in a faster kinetics of incorporation. The phase sequence of preferential binding of N-Ras to mixed-domain lipid vesicles is liquid-disordered>liquid-ordered>>solid-ordered. Intriguingly, we detect - using the better spatial resolution of AFM - also a large proportion of the lipidated protein located at the liquid-disordered/liquid-ordered phase boundary, thus leading to a favorable decrease in line tension that is associated with the rim of neighboring domains. In an all-liquid-ordered, cholesterol-rich phase, phase separation can be induced by an effective lipid sorting mechanism owing to the high affinity of the lipidated peptides and proteins to a fluid-like lipid environment. At low temperatures, where the overall acyl chain order parameter of the lipid bilayer has markedly increased, such an efficient lipid sorting mechanism is energetically too costly and self-association of the peptide into small clusters takes place. These data reveal the interesting ability of the lipidated peptides and proteins to induce formation of fluid microdomains at physiologically relevant high cholesterol concentrations. Furthermore, our results reveal self-association of the N-Ras protein at the domain boundaries which may serve as an important vehicle for association processes and nanoclustering, which has also been observed in in vivo studies.
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