Proteins SP-B and SP-C are essential to promote formation of surface-active films at the respiratory interface, but their mechanism of action is still under investigation. In the present study we have analysed the effect of the proteins on the accessibility of native, quasi-native and model surfactant membranes to incorporation of the fluorescent probes Nile Red (permeable) and FM 1-43 (impermeable) into membranes. We have also analysed the effect of single or combined proteins on membrane permeation using the soluble fluorescent dye calcein. The fluorescence of FM 1-43 was always higher in membranes containing SP-B and/or SP-C than in protein-depleted membranes, in contrast with Nile Red which was very similar in all of the materials tested. SP-B and SP-C promoted probe partition with markedly different kinetics. On the other hand, physiological proportions of SP-B and SP-C caused giant oligolamellar vesicles to incorporate FM 1-43 from the external medium into apparently most of the membranes instantaneously. In contrast, oligolamellar pure lipid vesicles appeared to be mainly labelled in the outermost membrane layer. Pure lipidic vesicles were impermeable to calcein, whereas it permeated through membranes containing SP-B and/or SP-C. Vesicles containing only SP-B were stable, but prone to vesicle–vesicle interactions, whereas those containing only SP-C were extremely dynamic, undergoing frequent fluctuations and ruptures. Differential structural effects of proteins on vesicles were confirmed by electron microscopy. These results suggest that SP-B and SP-C have different contributions to inter- and intra-membrane lipid dynamics, and that their combined action could provide unique effects to modulate structure and dynamics of pulmonary surfactant membranes and films.

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