The rate of lipid transfer during fusion depends on the structure of fluorescent lipid probes: a new chain-labeled lipid transfer probe pair.

PMID 11444975


A number of fluorescent probes have been used to follow membrane fusion events, particularly intermixing of lipids. None of them is ideal. The most popular pair of probes is NBD-PE and Rh-PE, in which the fluorescent groups are attached to the lipid headgroups, making them sensitive to changes in the surrounding medium. Here we present a new assay for monitoring lipid transfer during membrane fusion using the acyl chain tagged fluorescent probes BODIPY500-PC and BODIPY530-PE. Like the NBD-PE/Rh-PE assay, this assay is based on fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) between the donor, BODIPY500, and the acceptor, BODIPY530. The magnitude of FRET is sensitive to the probe surface concentration, allowing one to detect movement of probes from labeled to unlabeled vesicles during fusion. The high quantum yield of fluorescence, high efficiency of FRET (R(o) is estimated to be approximately 60 A), photostability, and localization in the central hydrophobic region of a bilayer all make this pair of probes quite promising for detecting fusion. We have compared this and two other lipid mixing assays for their abilities to detect the initial events of poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG)-mediated fusion of small unilamellar vesicles (SUVs). We found that the BODIPY500/530 assay showed lipid transfer rates consistent with those obtained using the DPHpPC self-quenching assay, while lipid mixing rates measured with the NBD-PE/Rh-PE RET assay were significantly slower. We speculate that the bulky labeled headgroups of NBD-PE and especially Rh-PE molecules hamper movement of probes through the stalk between fusing vesicles, and thus reduce the apparent rate of lipid mixing.