This report describes the application of a resonance energy transfer assay to determine the transbilayer distribution of 7-nitro-2,1,3-benzoxadiazol-4-yl (NBD)-labeled lipid analogues. The validity of this technique was established by determining the relationship between the distance of separation of lissamine rhodamine B labeled phosphatidylethanolamine (N-Rho-PE) acceptor lipid and NBD-labeled donor lipid and energy transfer efficiency. By determination of the distance between probes at 50% transfer efficiency (R0), the distance between fluorophores distributed symmetrically (outer leaflet label) and asymmetrically in artificially generated vesicles was determined. Calculation of the average distance between probes revealed a 14-A difference between NBD-lipid and N-Rho-PE localized in the same leaflet and in opposing leaflets, respectively. Application of this technique to the study of the transbilayer distribution of NBD-lipid in human red blood cells (RBC) showed that exogenously supplied NBD-phosphatidylserine (NBD-PS) was selectively transported to the inner leaflet, whereas NBD-phosphatidylcholine remained in the outer leaflet. In contrast, pretreatment of the RBC with diamide (a SH cross-linking reagent) blocked the transport of NBD-PS. The absence or presence of NBD-PS in the outer leaflet was independently verified by employing “back-exchange”, trinitrobenzenesulfonic acid derivatization, and decarboxylation with PS decarboxylase experiments. These control experiments yielded results which confirmed the lipid distributions determined by the resonance energy transfer assay.
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