Interaction of phosphatidylserine-phosphatidylcholine liposomes with sickle erythrocytes. Evidence for altered membrane surface properties

R. S. Schwartz, N. Duzgunes, D. Tsun Yee Chiu, B. Lubin

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Article peer-review

14 Scopus citations


The sickle erythrocyte (RBC) is a pathologic RBC that contains multiple membrane abnormalities. Some of these abnormalities have been implicated in the pathophysiology of vasoocclusive crises characteristic of sickle cell disease; others have yet to be defined in terms of their clinical significance. Recent information has shown that sickle RBC adhere abnormally to cultured endothelial cells yet little is known about the ways in which sickle cells interact with model membranes of defined size and lipid composition. We investigated this phenomenon by interacting sickle RBC with artificial lipid vesicles (liposomes) containing acidic phospholipids. Our results demonstrate that sickle disease (hemoglobin SS) RBC bind more of these liposomes than do normal or sickle trait (hemoglobin AS) RBC and that these differences are accentuated by hypoxia-induced sickling. Binding of liposome phospholipid to sickled RBC was not attributable to phospholipid exchange between liposomes and RBC and was consistent with a mechanism involving both membrane fusion and a stable reversible adhesion of liposomes to the RBC membrane. Investigations into the mechanism(s) underlying increased liposome binding to sickled RBC suggested that the known reversible translocation of aminophospholipids, phosphatidylserine (PS) and phosphatidylethanolamine (PE), from the inner to the outer leaflet of the reversibly sickled RBC (RSC) plasma membrane during sickling may be a component of increased liposome binding to RSC. This idea was supported from results of experiments in which normal RBC were treated with diamide resulting in the expression of outer leaflet PE and PS and a stimulation of liposome binding to these cells. However, sickle RBC separated according to cell density on stractan gradients showed that irreversibly sickled RBC (ISC) were less capable of liposome binding than were discoid RSC. Since ISC are known to contain elevated levels of outer leaflet aminophospholipids, such a result suggests that other changes in the plasma membrane of sickle cells, in addition to phospholipid reorganization, are probably involved in enhanced liposome binding to these cells. In other experiments, we showed that liposomes containing L-phenylalanine were capable of delivering this antisickling agent into intact sickle RBC as demonstrated by the partial inhibition of hypoxia-induced sickling in vitro. Our results suggest that liposomes can be used as sensitive probes for investigating changes in RBC membrane properties, especially those that after intermembrane interactions, and that liposomal transport systems may have significant implications in the therapy of sickle cell disease.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1570-1580
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Clinical Investigation
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1983
Externally publishedYes


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