The thermotropic behavior of dipalmitoylphosphatidylcholine large unilamellar vesicles containing gangliosides has been studied by high-sensitivity heating and cooling differential scanning calorimetry. These studies have been directed to identify and evaluate the influence of both the ganglioside lipidic portion and oligosaccharide moiety on the physical properties of phospholipid bilayers containing gangliosides. The influence of the ganglioside lipidic portion has been evaluated by studying the behavior of vesicles containing different GD1a molecular species carrying homogeneous lipid moieties (C20 or C18 sphingosine or sphinganine and stearic acid). The influence of the ganglioside saccharide portion was evaluated by investigating the thermotropic behavior of vesicles containing different gangliosides (GM1, Fuc-GM1, GD1 a, GT1b) carrying the same homogeneous long-chain base moiety (C20 sphingosine and stearic acid). These studies, in conjunction with previous studies using homogeneous lipidic portion ganglioside GM1 and phosphatidylcholines of various chain lengths [Masserini, M., & Freire, E. (1986) Biochemistry 25, 1043-1049], indicate that, for a given oligosaccharide composition, gangliosides exhibit lateral phase separation in an extent dependent upon the length and unsaturation difference between the ganglioside long-chain base and phosphatidylcholine acyl chains. For a given ganglioside lipidic composition the extent of phase separation is dependent upon the number of sugar units present in the glycolipid. The addition of Ca2+ induces or enhances phase separation in a manner dependent on the long-chain base and oligosaccharide composition. Cooling differential scanning calorimetry experiments showed that the ganglioside property to form aggregates within the membrane is independent of the initial physical state of the bilayer. The analysis of the lipidic and saccharidic composition dependence of the thermotropic behavior suggests that geometrical and chemical factors contribute to determine the aggregative properties of gangliosides.
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