The formation, properties and biological functions of membrane microdomains rich in cholesterol is one of the most exciting and controversial topics in membrane structure and function. In 1994 we proposed (with Deborah Brown, Stony Brook U.) the current working model for the nature of such domains in eukaryotic cells: that they are cholesterol and saturated lipid-rich liquid ordered state lipid domains that segregate from disordered lipid regions rich in unsaturated lipids. A number of pathogenic bacteria, including those in the genus Borrelia, obtain cholesterol from their hosts. In collaboration with Dr. Jorge Benach (Stony Brook U.) the co-discoverer of Borrelia burgdorferi as the causative agent of Lyme disease, we found that B. burgdorferi forms cholesterol glycolipid-containing outer membrane microdomains large enough to directly visualize by electron microscopy. The goal of this project is, in collaboration with the Benach and Brown labs, to understand the physical basis of domain organization of cholesteryl glycolipids and free cholesterol in Borrelia membranes, and to define the functional importance of these domains. Such studies will contribute greatly to our understanding of the general underlying principles of membrane domain organization and function. Electron microscopy, spectroscopic and biochemical approaches will be used to test the hypothesis that B. burgdorferi domains are self-organized ordered lipid domains. To do this, lipid substitution experiments will be used to modify B. burgdorferi membranes in order to determine whether the ability of sterols and other lipids to form ordered domains in vitro is necessary and sufficient for them to form membrane domains in B.burgdorferi cells. Next, whether only those molecules previously shown to strongly associate with ordered membrane domains in model membranes and eukaryotic cells localize within B.burgdorferi membrane domains will be determined. Then, whether B. burgdorferi outer membrane proteins influence domain formation will be determined. To test the hypothesis that interactions specifically involving cholesteryl glycolipids are crucial for domain formation, we will determine which B. burgdorferi lipids have the ability to form membrane domains in model membrane vesicles in vitro.
The final aim will be to investigate the function of B. burgdorferi membrane domains. Based on preliminary studies, whether membrane domains are necessary to maintain B.burgdorferi. membrane integrity and/or antibody susceptibility, will be tested. These studies may point the way towards biomedical applications, including prevention/treatment of Lyme disease, by modifying membrane domains. Along these lines, a strategy for combating B. burgdorferi infections by using sterols that are not toxic to eukaryotic cells, but which we have very recently discovered to be toxic to B.burgdorferi cells, will be tested. Ultimately, the studies proposed in this project may lead to a new understanding of the membranes of other cholesterol-containing pathogenic bacteria, and new strategies to combat the diseases that they cause.

Public Health Relevance

The organization of membrane cholesterol in the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, the agent of Lyme disease, will be studied. The hypothesis that cholesterol and cholesterol derived lipids self-organize into functionally-important ordered membrane domains will be tested. In addition, the function of B. burgdorferi membrane domains and how domains may be altered in order to combat B. burgdorferi infections will be explored.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
Research Project (R01)
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Biochemistry and Biophysics of Membranes Study Section (BBM)
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Chin, Jean
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State University New York Stony Brook
Schools of Arts and Sciences
Stony Brook
United States
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Toledo, Alvaro; Huang, Zhen; Benach, Jorge L et al. (2018) Analysis of Lipids and Lipid Rafts in Borrelia. Methods Mol Biol 1690:69-82
Raj, Shriya; Nazemidashtarjandi, Saeed; Kim, Jihyun et al. (2017) Changes in glucosylceramide structure affect virulence and membrane biophysical properties of Cryptococcus neoformans. Biochim Biophys Acta Biomembr 1859:2224-2233
Kim, Ji Hyun; Singh, Ashutosh; Del Poeta, Maurizio et al. (2017) The effect of sterol structure upon clathrin-mediated and clathrin-independent endocytosis. J Cell Sci 130:2682-2695
Huang, Zhen; Toledo, Alvaro M; Benach, Jorge L et al. (2016) Ordered Membrane Domain-Forming Properties of the Lipids of Borrelia burgdorferi. Biophys J 111:2666-2675
Huang, Zhen; London, Erwin (2016) Cholesterol lipids and cholesterol-containing lipid rafts in bacteria. Chem Phys Lipids 199:11-16
Kim, JiHyun; London, Erwin (2015) Using Sterol Substitution to Probe the Role of Membrane Domains in Membrane Functions. Lipids 50:721-34
Farnoud, Amir M; Toledo, Alvaro M; Konopka, James B et al. (2015) Raft-like membrane domains in pathogenic microorganisms. Curr Top Membr 75:233-68
Pathak, Priyadarshini; London, Erwin (2015) The Effect of Membrane Lipid Composition on the Formation of Lipid Ultrananodomains. Biophys J 109:1630-8
Toledo, Alvaro; Crowley, Jameson T; Coleman, James L et al. (2014) Selective association of outer surface lipoproteins with the lipid rafts of Borrelia burgdorferi. MBio 5:e00899-14
Lin, Qingqing; London, Erwin (2013) Transmembrane protein (perfringolysin o) association with ordered membrane domains (rafts) depends upon the raft-associating properties of protein-bound sterol. Biophys J 105:2733-42

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