A somatic cell mutant (CR1) of a Chinese hamster ovary cell (CHO-K1) which has previously been shown to be defective in the regulation of cholesterol biosynthesis accumulates more cholesterol than the parental cell line in plasma membranes. Although such an increase in membrane cholesterol should lead to an increase in the order parameter of these membranes, as measured with an electron spin resonance spin probe, the order parameters of mutant and wild-type plasma membranes are identical--apparently because of an adaptive alteration in membrane phospholipid composition. The phospholipid compositions of mutant and wild-type cell plasma membranes are compared and the mutant is shown to have a threefold higher level of oleic acid and a twofold lower level of phosphatidylethanolamine than the wild type. These results are consistent with model studies which show that these compositional changes lead to lower-order parameters for phospholipid dispersions.

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