Vesicles of sarcoplasmic reticulum from rabbit muscle can be loaded with cholesterol to at least 20 mol% with respect to endogenous sarcoplasmic-reticulum phospholipid without effect on the ATPase activity at 32 degrees C. This applies both to sarcoplasmic-reticulum vesicles in which the ATPase activity is stably coupled to Ca2+ accumulation, and to sarcoplasmic-reticulum vesicles in which the sarcoplasmic-reticulum ATPase is activated severalfold by fully uncoupling the enzyme from net Ca2+ accumulation. Since the incorporation of cholesterol causes a large decrease in fluidity of sarcoplasmic-reticulum phospholipid bilayer, these results for sarcoplasmic reticulum raise the more general question of whether bilayer fluidity is important in modulating the function of membrane proteins under physiological conditions as is widely assumed, or whether the function of membrane proteins may be effectively buffered under normal operating conditions against changes in bilayer fluidity due to extraneous agents.

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