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X-Ray Diffraction Study in Water of Lipids Extracted from Human Erythrocytes: The Position of Cholesterol in the Lipid Lamellae

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Lipids, carefully extracted from fresh human erythrocytes, form liquid-crystalline structures in water. A phase diagram of this system was constructed, characterizing, by X-ray diffraction, the structures which form as a function of concentration of lipid and temperature. One extended range of concentration of the phase diagram, in which a single lamellar phase exists, permitted further analysis of the diffraction data. This phase consists of lipid layers of constant thickness separated by water layers of varying thickness according to the water content of the system. The distribution of the electron density is precisely analyzed and the amplitude of the reflections is, at all concentrations, proportional to the Fourier Transform of an isolated lipid layer. This shows that the lipid layer is filled with the hydro-carbon chains of the phospholipids and is covered on both sides by their hydrophilic groups. Cholesterol, present in high concentration in erythrocyte membranes, is located so that part of its steroid nucleus is between the polar groups of the phospholipid molecules while the rest of the molecule extends into the inner hydrocarbon layer.


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