Rhodopsin is an important example of a G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) in which 11-cis-retinal is the ligand and acts as an inverse agonist. Photolysis of rhodopsin leads to formation of the activated meta II state from its precursor meta I. Various mechanisms have been proposed to explain how the membrane composition affects the meta I-meta II conformational equilibrium in the visual process. For rod disk membranes and recombinant membranes containing rhodopsin, the lipid properties have been discussed in terms of elastic deformation of the bilayer. Here we have investigated the relation of nonlamellar-forming lipids, such as dioleoylphosphatidylethanolamine (DOPE), together with dioleoylphosphatidylcholine (DOPC), to the photochemistry of membrane-bound rhodopsin. We conducted flash photolysis experiments for bovine rhodopsin recombined with DOPE/DOPC mixtures (0: 100 to 75:25) as a function of pH to explore the dependence of the photochemical activity on the monolayer curvature free energy of the membrane. It is well-known that DOPC forms bilayers, whereas DOPE has a propensity to adopt the nonlamellar, reverse hexagonal (HII) phase. In the case of neutral DOPE/DOPC recombinants, calculations of the membrane surface pH confirmed that an increase in DOPE favored the meta II state. Moreover, doubling the PE headgroup content versus the native rod membranes substituted for the polyunsaturated, docosahexaenoic acyl chains (22:6ω3), suggesting rhodopsin function is associated with a balance of forces within the bilayer. The data are interpreted by applying a flexible surface model, in which the meta II state is stabilized by lipids tending to form the HII phase, with a negative spontaneous curvature. A simple theory, based on principles of surface chemistry, for coupling the energetics of membrane proteins to material properties of the bilayer lipids is described. For rhodopsin, the free energy balance of the receptor and the lipids is altered by photoisomerization of retinal and involves curvature stress/strain of the membrane (frustration). A new biophysical principle is introduced: matching of the spontaneous curvature of the lipid bilayer to the mean curvature of the lipid/water interface adjacent to the protein, which balances the lipid/protein solvation energy. In this manner, the thermodynamic driving force for the meta I-meta II conformational change of rhodopsin is tightly controlled by mixtures of nonlamellar-forming lipids having distinctive material properties.
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