Mechanisms of polyelectrolyte enhanced surfactant adsorption at the air-water interface

Patrick C. Stenger, Omer A. Palazoglu, Joseph A. Zasadzinski

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13 Scopus citations


Chitosan, a naturally occurring cationic polyelectrolyte, restores the adsorption of the clinical lung surfactant Survanta to the air-water interface in the presence of albumin at much lower concentrations than uncharged polymers such as polyethylene glycol. This is consistent with the positively charged chitosan forming ion pairs with negative charges on the albumin and lung surfactant particles, reducing the net charge in the double-layer, and decreasing the electrostatic energy barrier to adsorption to the air-water interface. However, chitosan, like other polyelectrolytes, cannot perfectly match the charge distribution on the surfactant, which leads to patches of positive and negative charge at net neutrality. Increasing the chitosan concentration further leads to a reduction in the rate of surfactant adsorption consistent with an over-compensation of the negative charge on the surfactant and albumin surfaces, which creates a new repulsive electrostatic potential between the now cationic surfaces. This charge neutralization followed by charge inversion explains the window of polyelectrolyte concentration that enhances surfactant adsorption; the same physical mechanism is observed in flocculation and re-stabilization of anionic colloids by chitosan and in alternate layer deposition of anionic and cationic polyelectrolytes on charged colloids.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1033-1043
Number of pages11
JournalBiochimica et Biophysica Acta - Biomembranes
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Bill Taeusch for ongoing collaborations on surfactant adsorption. Support for this work comes from National Institute of Health Grants HL-66410 (AJW), HL-51177 (JAZ), and the Tobacco Related Disease Research Program 14RT-0077 (JAZ, AJW). P.C.S. was partially supported by a NSF graduate research fellowship.


  • Chitosan
  • Competitive adsorption
  • Electrostatics
  • Inactivation
  • Inhibition
  • Polycation
  • Pulmonary surfactant

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