Synapsin I, a major neuron-specific phosphoprotein, is localized on the cytoplasmic surface of small synaptic vesicles to which it binds with high affinity. It contains a collagenase-resistant head domain and a collagenase-sensitive elongated tail domain. In the present study, the interaction between synapsin I and phospholipid vesicles has been characterized, and the protein domains involved in these interactions have been identified. When lipid vesicles were prepared from cholesterol and phospholipids using a lipid composition similar to that found in native synaptic vesicle membranes (40% phosphatidylcholine, 32% phosphatidylethanolamine, 12% phosphatidylserine, 5% phosphatidylinositol, 10% cholesterol, wt/wt), synapsin I bound with a dissociation constant of 14 nM and a maximal binding capacity of about 160 fmol of synapsin I/microgram of phospholipid. Increasing the ionic strength decreased the affinity without greatly affecting the maximal amount of synapsin I bound. When vesicles containing cholesterol and either phosphatidylcholine or phosphatidylcholine/phosphatidylethanolamine were tested, no significant binding was detected under any conditions examined. On the other hand, phosphatidylcholine vesicles containing either phosphatidylserine or phosphatidylinositol strongly interacted with synapsin I. The amount of synapsin I maximally bound was directly proportional to the percentage of acidic phospholipids present in the lipid bilayer, whereas the Kd value was not affected by varying the phospholipid composition. A study of synapsin I fragments obtained by cysteine-specific cleavage showed that the collagenase-resistant head domain actively bound to phospholipid vesicles; in contrast, the collagenase-sensitive tail domain, though strongly basic, did not significantly interact. Photolabeling of synapsin I was performed with the phosphatidylcholine analogue 1-palmitoyl-2-[11-[4-[3-(trifluoromethyl)diazirinyl]phenyl] [2-3H]undecanoyl]-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine; this compound generates a highly reactive carbene that selectively interacts with membrane-embedded domains of membrane proteins. Synapsin I was significantly labeled upon photolysis when incubated with lipid vesicles containing acidic phospholipids and trace amounts of the photoactivatable phospholipid. Proteolytic cleavage of photolabeled synapsin I localized the label to the head domain of the molecule.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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