The objectives of this study were to determine whether there are differences between black and white individuals with regard to the membrane fluidity of isolated erythrocytes, and/or in the relationships between membrane fluidity, gender and circulating lipids. Fluorescent polarization anisotropy, as an index of membrane fluidity, was determined using the fluorescent probe 1-(4-trimethylammoniumphenyl)-6-phenyl-1,3,5-hexatriene (TMA-DPH) in 52 black and 52 white individuals, of whom 39 pairs were matched for age, sex and blood pressure. In the 39 matched pairs, the TMA-DPH anisotropy was significantly higher in the black (0.262±0.007) compared with the white (0.258±0.005) subjects (P < 0.005). There was also a significant difference in serum lipids. Gender differences in TMA-DPH anisotropy were observed in the white but not in the black individuals. The associations between membrane fluidity and serum lipids were examined in the total group, separated according to ethnic group. Although the associations were in the same direction in both groups, the association was only significant in the white subjects (r = - 0.42; P < 0.02). The ethnic difference in membrane fluidity was abolished when adjusting for serum triacylglycerols. In conclusion, ethnic differences in erythrocyte membrane fluidity, as determined by the use of TMA-DPH anisotropy, appear to be the result of ethnic differences in the level of serum triacylglycerols.

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