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The structural properties of isolated purified rat brain synaptosomal membranes, both in the presence and absence of purified active toxin of the Mojave snake Crotalus scutulatus scutulatus, were studied by spin-label electron spin resonance techniques. The spectra from eight different positional isomers of nitroxide-labelled stearic acids, a rigid steroid androstanol, and a spin-labelled phosphatidylcholine intercalated into the synaptosomal membranes, were obtained as a function of temperature from 4-40 degrees C. The flexibility gradient (from spin-label order parameters) and polarity profile (from isotropic splitting factors) across the synaptosomal membranes, was characteristic for lipid bilayers. The nitroxide spin-labelled steroid, androstanol, intercalated into the synaptosomal membrane, revealed the abrupt onset of rapid cooperative rotation about the long axis of the molecule at 12 degrees C showing that the lipid molecules are rotating rapidly around their long axes at physiological temperatures. The presence of the Mojave toxin affected the synaptosomal membrane in a complex manner, depending upon the temperature and the position of the nitroxide label on the alkyl chain of the stearic acid probe. Mojave toxin exerted little effect on the flexibility gradient of the synaptosomal membrane at 20 degrees C, a temperature at which the acyl chain labels detected a structural change in the membranes. At temperatures lower than 20 degrees C, the Mojave toxin produced a change in the flexibility gradient of the synaptosomal membrane which indicated an increased disordering in the upper region of the membrane and a concomitant increased ordering of the acyl chains in the deeper regions of the membrane. At temperatures higher than 20 degrees C, the order profile of the synaptosomal membrane was shifted by the presence of the Mojave toxin in a manner which indicated that the outer parts of the membrane were more rigid and the inner regions more fluid, than in controls. A cross-over point for the perturbation occurred at C8-9, which is about 12-14 A into the membrane. This is the approximate depth of the hydrophobic pocket shown in pancreatic phospholipase A2 [Drenth et al. (1976) Nature (Lond.) 264, 373-377], a protein likely to be homologous to the basic subunit of the toxin. At all temperatures, rotational lipid motion was inhibited by the toxin as indicated by the steroid probe. The electron spin-resonance spin-label results are interpreted in terms of the partial penetration of the basic subunit of the intact toxin into the membrane, disordering the ordered chains at low temperature and ordering the disordered chains at physiological temperatures. The purified individual toxin subunits did not perturb the membrane lipids at physiological temperatures implying that both subunits must be associated for activity of the toxin which is confirmed by toxicity studies.


Journal article


Eur J Biochem

Publication Date





559 - 565


Animals, Binding Sites, Brain Chemistry, Crotalid Venoms, Electron Spin Resonance Spectroscopy, In Vitro Techniques, Male, Nerve Endings, Neurotoxins, Rats, Rats, Inbred Strains, Synaptic Membranes, Synaptosomes, Temperature