The structure and stability of phospholipid bilayers by atomic force microscopy

S. W. Hui, R. Viswanathan, J. A. Zasadzinski, J. N. Israelachvili

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Atomic force microscopy (AFM) was used to investigate the structure, stability, and defects of the hydrophilic surfaces of Langmuir-Blodgett bilayer films of distearoylphosphatidylcholine (DSPC) and dipalmitoylphosphatidylethanolamine (DPPE) in the solid phase, and dilinoleoylphosphatidylethanolamine (DLPE) in the fluid phase. Their relative resilience to external mechanical stress by the scanning tip and by fluid exchange were also investigated. DPPE monolayers showed parallel ridges at the surface with a period of 0.49 nm, corresponding to the rows of aligned headgroups consistent with the known crystallographic structure. DSPC and DLPE monolayers did not show any periodic order. The solid DSPC and DPPE monolayers were stable to continued rastering by the AFM tip; however, the stability of DLPE monolayers depended on the pH of the aqueous environment. Structural defects in the form of monolayer gaps and holes were observed after fluid exchange, but the defects in DLPE monolayer at pH 11 were stable during consecutive scanning. At pH 9 and below, the defects induced by fluid exchange over DLPE monolayers were more extensive and were deformed easily by consecutive scanning of the AFM tip at a force of 10 nN. The pH dependence of resilience was explained by the increasing bending energy or frustration due to the high spontaneous curvature of DLPE monolayers at low pH. The tangential stress exerted by the AFM tip on the deformable monolayers eventually produced a ripple pattern, which could be described as a periodic buckling known as Shallamach waves.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)171-178
Number of pages8
JournalBiophysical journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1995

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