Membrane attack complex of complement (MAC): Three-dimensional analysis of MAC-phospholipid vesicle recombinants

E. R. Podack, H. J. Muller-Eberhard, H. Horst, W. Hoppe

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28 Scopus citations


The three-dimensional structure of recombinants of the isolated membrane attack complex (MAC) of complement with single bilayer dioleoyllecithin (DOL) vesicles and with dimyristoyllecithin (DML) vesicles was determined. A total of four MAC-vesicle complexes were analyzed by imaging negatively stained specimens at various defined tilting angles under minimal dose conditions in the electron microscope and by computer-aided three-dimensional reconstruction. The information on electron micrographs obtained at 6° angular increments from +60° to -60° was digitized by densitometric scanning, Fourier-transformed, corrected for imaging errors, cross-correlated, and synthesized to the three-dimensional image. All four MAC-vesicle recombinants showed stain penetration into the interior of the vesicle, indicating increased permeability of the bilayer to negative stain. The MAC appeared as a hollow structure of 16-nm height, 2.0-nm wall thickness, and a 3.0-nm torus at the free end with an outer and inner diameter of 20.0 nm and 10.0 nm. In MAC-DOL vesicles the hollow core of the MAC terminated at the membrane-binding site, and only small pores of up to 2.0 nm in diameter penetrated the bilayer. In one MAC-DML vesicle lipid discontinuities on the outer circumference of the MAC binding site mediated stain penetration. The second MAC-DML vesicle showed a channel of ~4.0 nm connecting the hollow core of the MAC across the bilayer with the vesicle interior. The results suggest the MAC may mediate increased membrane permeability by protein channel formation in addition to lipid reorientation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2353-2357
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Immunology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1982

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


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