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Lipid ordering in cell membranes has been increasingly recognized as an important factor in establishing and regulating a large variety of biological functions. Multiple investigations into lipid organization focused on assessing ordering from temperature-induced phase transitions, which are often well outside the physiological range. However, particular stresses elicited by environmental factors, such as hypo-osmotic stress or protein insertion into membranes, with respect to changes in lipid status and ordering at constant temperature are insufficiently described. To fill these gaps in our knowledge, we exploited the well-established ability of environmentally sensitive membrane probes to detect intramembrane changes at the molecular level. Our steady state fluorescence spectroscopy experiments focused on assessing changes in optical responses of Laurdan and diphenylhexatriene upon exposure of red blood cells to hypo-osmotic stress and pore-forming toxins at room temperature. We verified our utilized experimental systems by a direct comparison of the results with prior reports on artificial membranes and cholesterol-depleted membranes undergoing temperature changes. The significant changes observed in the lipid order after exposure to hypo-osmotic stress or pore-forming toxins resembled phase transitions of lipids in membranes, which we explained by considering the short-range interactions between membrane components and the hydrophobic mismatch between membrane thickness and inserted proteins. Our results suggest that measurements of optical responses from the membrane probes constitute an appropriate method for assessing the status of lipids and phase transitions in target membranes exposed to mechanical stresses or upon the insertion of transmembrane proteins.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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