Purpose: The major component of human lens membranes was thought to be sphingomyelin until 1991, when a study by phosphorus-31 (31P) nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy revealed the presence of an unknown phospholipid that constituted approximately half the human lens phospholipids. The objective of this work was to isolate this phospholipid and to elucidate its identity.
Methods: The separation of sphingomyelin from the unknown was accomplished using high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and an amino-bound column. Sphingomyelin standard and the membranes from human lenses were chromatographed. Chromatographic fractions were collected and spectrally characterized by proton (1H) NMR and 31P NMR spectroscopy.
Results: The chromatographic method did not affect the integrity of the sphingomyelin. Besides the bands corresponding to the unknown components, the chromatogram of the human lens membranes showed three large peaks, the central one with a shoulder, with elution times similar to that for sphingomyelin. The 1H NMR spectra for the fractions collected during the elution of these peaks showed differences. The study by 31P NMR indicated that the first peak contained the unknown phospholipid. The subsequent fractions showed the presence, in different relative levels, of both the unknown and sphingomyelin. By comparison and interpretation of the two-dimensional 1H NMR spectra for sphingomyelin and for the fraction containing the unknown, the unknown phospholipid is proposed to be 4,5 dihydrosphingomyelin, in which the site of unsaturation present in the sphingosine moiety is no longer present.
Conclusions: The ability to separate the unknown from sphingomyelin and the power of 1H NMR spectroscopy allowed the proposition of the identity of the major component of human lens membranes as 4,5-dihydrosphingomyelin. Although the synthetic compound is known to be involved in the formation of extended hydrogen-bonding networks, its biologic and physicochemical properties need further study.