The asymmetric distribution of phospholipids in bovine endothelial-cell membranes was probed with 2,4,6-trinitrobenzenesulphonate and purified phospholipase A2. The data suggest that phosphotidylethanolamine is primarily located in the inner lipid bilayer, as reported for other cell types. Stearic acid is taken up by the endothelial cells and is randomly distributed among the membrane phospholipids. In contrast, the polyunsaturated fatty acids (arachidonic, eicosatrienoic and eicosapentaenoic acids) have initial incorporation into the phosphatidylcholine fraction. These fatty acids then undergo a time-dependent transfer from phosphatidylcholine to phosphatidylethanolamine. Thus we propose that endothelial cells possess a mechanism for the selective internalization of polyunsaturated fatty acids.

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