Serotonin Alters the Phase Equilibrium of a Ternary Mixture of Phospholipids and Cholesterol

Engberg O, Bochicchio A, Brandner A, Gupta A, Dey S, Böckmann R, Maiti S, Huster D (2020)

Publication Type: Journal article

Publication year: 2020


Book Volume: 11

Article Number: 578868

DOI: 10.3389/fphys.2020.578868


Unsaturated and saturated phospholipids tend to laterally segregate, especially in the presence of cholesterol. Small molecules such as neurotransmitters, toxins, drugs etc. possibly modulate this lateral segregation. The small aromatic neurotransmitter serotonin (5-HT) has been found to bind to membranes. We studied the lipid structure and packing of a ternary membrane mixture consisting of palmitoyl-oleoyl-phosphatidylcholine, palmitoyl-sphingomyelin, and cholesterol at a molar ratio of 4/4/2 in the absence and in the presence of 5-HT, using a combination of solid-state 2H NMR, atomic force microscopy, and atomistic molecular dynamics (MD) simulations. Both NMR and MD report formation of a liquid ordered (Lo) and a liquid disordered (Ld) phase coexistence with small domains. Lipid exchange between the domains was fast such that single component 2H NMR spectra are detected over a wide temperature range. A drastic restructuring of the domains was induced when 5-HT is added to the membranes at a 9 mol% concentration relative to the lipids. 2H NMR spectra of all components of the mixture showed two prominent contributions indicative of molecules of the same kind residing both in the disordered and the ordered phase. Compared to the data in the absence of 5-HT, the lipid chain order in the disordered phase was further decreased in the presence of 5-HT. Likewise, addition of serotonin increased lipid chain order within the ordered phase. These characteristic lipid chain order changes were confirmed by MD simulations. The 5-HT-induced larger difference in lipid chain order results in more pronounced differences in the hydrophobic thickness of the individual membrane domains. The correspondingly enlarged hydrophobic mismatch between ordered and disordered phases is assumed to increase the line tension at the domain boundary, which drives the system into formation of larger size domains. These results not only demonstrate that small membrane binding molecules such as neurotransmitters have a profound impact on essential membrane properties. It also suggests a mechanism by which the interaction of small molecules with membranes can influence the function of membrane proteins and non-cognate receptors. Altered membrane properties may modify lateral sorting of membrane protein, membrane protein conformation, and thus influence their function as suspected for neurotransmitters, local anesthetics, and other small drug molecules.

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Engberg, O., Bochicchio, A., Brandner, A., Gupta, A., Dey, S., Böckmann, R.,... Huster, D. (2020). Serotonin Alters the Phase Equilibrium of a Ternary Mixture of Phospholipids and Cholesterol. Frontiers in Physiology, 11.


Engberg, Oskar, et al. "Serotonin Alters the Phase Equilibrium of a Ternary Mixture of Phospholipids and Cholesterol." Frontiers in Physiology 11 (2020).

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