ABSTRACT Equinatoxin II (EqtII), a protein toxin from the sea anemone Actinia equina, readily creates pores in sphingomyelin-containing lipid membranes. The perturbation by EqtII of model lipid membranes composed of dimyristoylphosphatidycholine and sphingomyelin (10 mol %) was investigated using wideline phosphorus-31 and deuterium NMR. The preferential interaction between EqtII (0.1 and 0.4 mol %) and the individual bilayer lipids was studied by 31 P magic angle spinning NMR, and toxin-induced changes in bilayer morphology were examined by freeze-fracture electron microscopy. Both NMR and EM showed the formation of an additional lipid phase in sphingomyelin-containing mixed lipid multilamellar suspensions with 0.4 mol % EqtII. The new toxin-induced phase consisted of small unilamellar vesicles 20–40 nm in diameter. Deuterium NMR showed that the new lipid phase contains both dimyristoylphosphatidycholine and sphingomyelin. Solid-state 31 P NMR showed an increase in spin-lattice and a decrease in spin-spin relaxation times in mixed-lipid model membranes in the presence of EqtII, consistent with an increase in the intensity of low frequency motions. The 2 H and 31 P spectral intensity distributions confirmed a change in lipid mobility and showed the creation of an isotropic lipid phase, which was identified as the small vesicle structures visible by electron microscopy in the EqtII-lipid suspensions. The toxin appears to enhance slow motions in the membrane lipids and destabilize the membrane. This effect was greatly enhanced in sphingomyelin-containing mixed lipid membranes compared with pure phosphatidylcholine bilayers, suggesting a preferential interaction between the toxin and bilayer sphingomyelin
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