Large vesicles (5-10-micron in diameter) were formed in the presence of phospholipids fluorescently labeled on the acyl chain and visualized using a fluorescence microscope, charge-coupled-device camera and digital image processor. When such vesicles contained a fluorescent phosphatidic acid (PA) and were exposed to 2 mM CaCl2 or 0.5 mM PrCl3, it was possible to visualize PA-enriched domains within the vesicles. Calcium-induced domain formation was reversible in the presence of 4 mM EGTA. Vesicles were formed containing fluorescent PA on either the inner or outer leaflet of the bilayer and the patching and dissolution of patching were studied under conditions where calcium was present on the outside of the vesicle and where calcium was distributed across the bilayer. In addition, vesicles were formed with two different fluorescent PA's, one on the inner leaflet and a different one on the outer leaflet of the bilayer. The results of the experiments show that in vesicles formed primarily with naturally occurring phospholipids such as egg phosphatidylcholine or brain phosphatidylethanolamine, there was no coordinate action of the two leaflets of the bilayer. An exception to this was found, however, if the vesicles were formed in the presence of primarily dioleoyl phospholipids (greater than 95 mol %). In these vesicles there was a coordinate or coupled response to calcium by the two leaflets of the bilayer. In most cases, however, the two leaflets of the bilayer showed independent or uncoupled domain formation.

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