Rapid flip-flop of oleic acid across the plasma membrane of adipocytes
J Biol Chem. 2003 Mar 7;278(10):7988-95. Epub 2002 Dec 23.
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Nonesterified long-chain fatty acids may enter cells by free diffusion or by membrane protein transporters. A requirement for proteins to transport fatty acids across the plasma membrane would imply low partitioning of fatty acids into the membrane lipids, and/or a slower rate of diffusion (flip-flop) through the lipid domains compared to the rates of intracellular metabolism of fatty acids. We used both vesicles of the plasma membrane of adipocytes and intact adipocytes to study transmembrane fluxes of externally added oleic acid at concentrations below its solubility limit at pH 7.4. Binding of oleic acid to the plasma membrane was determined by measuring the fluorescent fatty acid-binding protein ADIFAB added to the external medium. Changes in internal pH caused by flip-flop and metabolism were measured by trapping a fluorescent pH indicator in the cells. The metabolic end products of oleic acid were evaluated over the time interval required for the return of intracellular pH to its initial value. The primary findings were that (i) oleic acid rapidly binds with high avidity in the lipid domains of the plasma membrane with an apparent partition coefficient similar to that of protein-free phospholipid bilayers; (ii) oleic acid rapidly crosses the plasma membrane by the flip-flop mechanism (both events occur within 5 s); and (iii) the kinetics of esterification of oleic acid closely follow the time dependence of the recovery of intracellular pH. Any postulated transport mechanism for facilitating translocation of fatty acid across the plasma membrane of adipocytes, including a protein transporter, would have to compete with the highly effective flip-flop mechanism.