We have examined the effects of phospholipase C from Bacillus cereus on the extent of phospholipid hydrolysis in envelope membrane vesicles and in intact chloroplasts. When isolated envelope vesicles were incubated in presence of phospholipase C, phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylglycerol, but not phosphatidylinositol, were totally converted into diacylglycerol if they were available to the enzyme (i.e., when the vesicles were sonicated in presence of phospholipase C). These experiments demonstrate that phospholipase C can be used to probe the availability of phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylglycerol in the cytosolic leaflet of the outer envelope membrane from spinach chloroplasts. When isolated, purified, intact chloroplasts were incubated with low amounts of phospholipase C (0.3 U/mg chlorophyll) under very mild conditions (12 degrees C for 1 min), greater than 80% of phosphatidylcholine molecules and almost none of phosphatidylglycerol molecules were hydrolyzed. Since we have also demonstrated, by using several different methods (phase-contrast and electron microscopy, immunochemical and electrophoretic analyses) that isolated spinach chloroplasts, and especially their outer envelope membrane, remained intact after mild treatment with phospholipase C, we can conclude that there is a marked asymmetric distribution of phospholipids across the outer envelope membrane of spinach chloroplasts. Phosphatidylcholine, the major polar lipid of the outer envelope membrane, is almost entirely accessible from the cytosolic side of the membrane and therefore is probably localized in the outer leaflet of the outer envelope bilayer. On the contrary, phosphatidylglycerol, the major polar lipid in the inner envelope membrane and the thylakoids, is probably not accessible to phospholipase C from the cytosol and therefore is probably localized mostly in the inner leaflet of the outer envelope membrane and in the other chloroplast membranes.

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