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Biophys J. 2000 Jul; 79(1): 328–339.
PMCID: PMC1300937

Effect of chain length and unsaturation on elasticity of lipid bilayers.


Micropipette pressurization of giant bilayer vesicles was used to measure both elastic bending k(c) and area stretch K(A) moduli of fluid-phase phosphatidylcholine (PC) membranes. Twelve diacyl PCs were chosen: eight with two 18 carbon chains and degrees of unsaturation from one double bond (C18:1/0, C18:0/1) to six double bonds per lipid (diC18:3), two with short saturated carbon chains (diC13:0, diC14:0), and two with long unsaturated carbon chains (diC20:4, diC22:1). Bending moduli were derived from measurements of apparent expansion in vesicle surface area under very low tensions (0.001-0.5 mN/m), which is dominated by smoothing of thermal bending undulations. Area stretch moduli were obtained from measurements of vesicle surface expansion under high tensions (>0.5 mN/m), which involve an increase in area per molecule and a small-but important-contribution from smoothing of residual thermal undulations. The direct stretch moduli varied little (< +/-10%) with either chain unsaturation or length about a mean of 243 mN/m. On the other hand, the bending moduli of saturated/monounsaturated chain PCs increased progressively with chain length from 0.56 x 10(-19) J for diC13:0 to 1.2 x 10(-19) J for diC22:1. However, quite unexpectedly for longer chains, the bending moduli dropped precipitously to approximately 0.4 x 10(-19) J when two or more cis double bonds were present in a chain (C18:0/2, diC18:2, diC18:3, diC20:4). Given nearly constant area stretch moduli, the variations in bending rigidity with chain length and polyunsaturation implied significant variations in thickness. To test this hypothesis, peak-to-peak headgroup thicknesses h(pp) of bilayers were obtained from x-ray diffraction of multibilayer arrays at controlled relative humidities. For saturated/monounsaturated chain bilayers, the distances h(pp) increased smoothly from diC13:0 to diC22:1 as expected. Moreover, the distances and elastic properties correlated well with a polymer brush model of the bilayer that specifies that the elastic ratio (k(c)/K(A))(1/2) = (h(pp) - h(o))/24, where h(o) approximately 1 nm accounts for separation of the headgroup peaks from the deformable hydrocarbon region. However, the elastic ratios and thicknesses for diC18:2, diC18:3, and diC20:4 fell into a distinct group below the correlation, which showed that poly-cis unsaturated chain bilayers are thinner and more flexible than saturated/monounsaturated chain bilayers.

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Selected References

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