Plasma membrane lipid diffusion and composition of sea urchin egg membranes vary with ocean temperature

Frances E. Weaver, Saame Raza Shaikh, Michael Edidin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


A diverse and complex array of lipids plays a vital role in structuring and organizing cell membranes. However, the details of lipid requirements for global membrane organization are poorly understood. One obstacle to this understanding is the difficulty of accurately manipulating the lipid composition of commonly studied mammalian cells. In contrast, the lipid composition of cells of ectotherms changes with changes in environmental temperatures. Thus, comparison of lipid probe diffusion in cells from animals living at different temperatures, together with biochemical analysis, can be used toward understanding membrane organization. We used two dialkyindocarbocyanine iodide (DiI) probes, of differing chain length, to probe lipid organization in terms of their lateral diffusion in eggs of the sea urchin Strongylocentrotus purpuratus. The lateral diffusion of our probes changed in urchins developing in the year of an "El Niño" weather event, which raised the ocean temperature by several degrees, suggesting alterations in membrane domain composition and structure. Indeed the changes in lateral diffusion were correlated with lower levels of unsaturated fatty acids and cholesterol in animals of the "El Niño" year than in animals of the preceding or following years. We found similar trends comparing DiI diffusion in membranes of eggs from 15 °C waters with those from 10 °C. Our findings establish a new approach for manipulating and studying membrane organization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)62-65
Number of pages4
JournalChemistry and Physics of Lipids
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2008


  • Cholesterol
  • Lateral diffusion
  • Membranes
  • Unsaturation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Cell Biology


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