The role of lipid diversity in biomembranes is one of the major unsolved problems in biochemistry. One parameter of possible importance is the mean cross-sectional area occupied per lipid molecule, which may be related to formation of nonbilayer structures and membrane protein function. We have used 2H NMR spectroscopy to compare the properties of 1,2-diperdeuteriopalmitoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphoethanolamine (DPPE-d62) and 1,2-diperdeuteriopalmitoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine (DPPC-d62) in the L alpha phase. We find that DPPE has greater segmental order than DPPC, and that this increase in order is related to the smaller area per acyl chain found for DPPE. Values of the mean cross-sectional chain area are calculated using a simple diamond lattice model for the acyl chain configurational statistics, together with dilatometry data. The results obtained for the mean area per molecule are comparable with those from low angle x-ray diffraction studies.
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