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Faerber, Nicolas and Westerhausen, Christoph (2022): Broad lipid phase transitions in mammalian cell membranes measured by Laurdan fluorescence spectroscopy. In: Biochimica et Biophysica Acta - Biomembranes, Vol. 1864, No. 1, 183794

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Employing fluorescence spectroscopy and the membrane-embedded dye Laurdan we experimentally show that linear changes of cell membrane order in the physiological temperature regime are part of broad order-disorder-phase transitions which extend over a much broader temperature range. Even though these extreme temperatures are usually not object of live science research due to failure of cellular functions, our findings help to understand and predict cell membrane properties under physiological conditions as they explain the underlying physics of a broad order-disorder phase transition. Therefore, we analyzed the membranes of various cell lines, red blood cell ghosts and lipid vesicles by spectral decomposition in a custom-made setup in a temperature range from -40 degrees C to +90 degrees C. While the generalized polarization as a measure for membrane order of artificial lipid membranes like phosphatidylcholine show sharp transitions as known from calorimetry measurements, living cells in a physiological temperature range do only show linear changes. However, extending the temperature range shows the existence of broad transitions and their sensitivity to cholesterol content, pH and anaesthetic. Moreover, adaptation to culture conditions like decreased temperature and morphological changes like detachment of adherent cells or dendrite growth are accompanied by changes in membrane order as well. The observed changes of the generalized polarization are equivalent to temperature changes dT in the range of +12 K < dT < -6 K.

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