Membrane attack complex of complement: distribution of subunits between the hydrocarbon phase of target membranes and water.

E. R. Podack, W. Stoffel, A. F. Esser, H. J. Müller-Eberhard

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Membrane destruction by complement is effected by the membrane attack complex (MAC) which is the dimer of a fusion product of the complement proteins C5b, C6, C7, C8, and C9. Phospholipid bilayer vesicles were used as target membranes for the MAC and its intermediate complexes. The subunits of these membrane-bound complexes were explored as to their relative exposure to the hydrocarbon phase of the lipid bilayer and to water surrounding the lipid vesicles. Protein exposed to the aqueous phase was labeled with 125I; protein exposed to the hydrocarbon phase was labeled by using tritiated azido phospholipids and irradiation. Analysis of the membrane-bound MAC showed that subunits C5b, C8 beta, and C9 were exposed to the aqueous phase. The subunits C8 alpha-gamma and C9 were primarily in contact with the hydrocarbon phase. C6 and C7 were little exposed to either phase, suggesting that these proteins are inaccessible within the MAC. Analysis of the intermediate complexes showed that C5b was the subunit most exposed to water in membrane-bound C5b-7, and C5b and C8 beta were the water-exposed subunits in C5b-8. Subunit exposure to the hydrocarbon phase of the lipid bilayer changed during MAC assembly. Whereas all three subunits of C5b-7 carried the phospholipid photolabel; most of the label was bound to the C8 subunit in C5b-8 and to C9 in the MAC. It is proposed that contact with the hydrocarbon core of membranes is established by C5b-7 through each of its subunits, by C5b-8 through C8, and by the MAC through C8 and, particularly, C9.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4544-4548
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1981


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