Loss of membrane phospholipid asymmetry during activation of blood platelets and sickled red cells; mechanisms and physiological significance

Mol Cell Biochem. 1989 Nov 23-Dec 19;91(1-2):23-31. doi: 10.1007/BF00228075.


Membrane phospholipid asymmetry is considered to be a general property of biological membranes. Detailed information is presently available on the non-random orientation of phospholipids in red cell- and platelet membranes. The outer leaflet of the lipid bilayer membrane is rich in choline-phospholipids, whereas amino-phospholipids are abundant in the inner leaflet. Studies with blood platelets have shown that these asymmetries are not maintained when the cells are activated in various ways. Undoing the normal asymmetry of membrane phospholipids in activated blood cells is presumably mediated by increased transbilayer movement of phospholipids. This process, which leads to increased exposure of negatively charged phosphatidylserine at the outer surface, plays an important physiological role in local blood clotting reactions. A similar phenomenon occurs in sickled red cells. Phospholipid vesicles breaking off from reversibly sickled cells contribute similarly to intravascular clotting in the crisis phase of sickle cell disease. The loss of membrane phospholipid asymmetry in activated platelets seem to be strictly correlated with degradation of cytoskeletal proteins by endogenous calpain. It is remarkable that membrane phospholipid asymmetry can be (partly) restored when activated platelets are treated with reducing agents. This leads to disappearance of phosphatidylserine from the outer leaflet where it was previously exposed during cell activation. These observations will be discussed in relation to two mechanisms which have been recognized to play a role in the regulation of membrane phospholipid asymmetry; i.e. the interaction of amino-phospholipids to cytoskeletal proteins, and the involvement of a phospholpid-translocase catalyzing outward-inward transbilayer movement of amino-phospholipids.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anemia, Sickle Cell / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Erythrocytes / metabolism*
  • Membrane Lipids*
  • Phospholipids*
  • Platelet Activation*


  • Membrane Lipids
  • Phospholipids