A general procedure to incorporate membrane proteins in a native state into large single bilayer vesicles is described. The results obtained with rhodopsin from vertebrate and invertebrate retinas are presented. The technique involves: (a) the direct transfer of rhodopsin-lipid complexes from native membranes into ether or pentane, and (b) the sonication of the complex in apolar solvent with aqueous buffer followed by solvent evaporation under reduced pressure. The spectral properties of rhodopsin in the large vesicles are similar to those of rhodopsin in photoreceptors; furthermore, bleached bovine rhodopsin is chemically regenerable with 9-cis retinal. These results establish the presence of photochemically functional rhodopsin in the large vesicles. Freeze-fracture replicas of the vesicles reveal that both internal and external leaflets contain numerous particles approximately 80 A in diameter, indicating that rhodopsin is symmetrically distributed within the bilayer. More than 75% of the membrane area is incorporated into vesicles larger than 0.5 micron and approximately 40% into vesicles larger than 1 micron.

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