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Biophys J. 1989 Mar;55(3):509-17.

Determination of bilayer membrane bending stiffness by tether formation from giant, thin-walled vesicles.

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  • 1Department of Biophysics, University of Rochester, School of Medicine and Dentistry, New York 14642.


The curvature elastic modulus (bending stiffness) of stearoyloleoyl phosphatidylcholine (SOPC) bilayer membrane is determined from membrane tether formation experiments. R. E. Waugh and R. M. Hochmuth 1987. Biophys. J. 52:391-400) have shown that the radius of a bilayer cylinder (tether) is inversely related to the force supported along its axis. The coefficient that relates the axial force on the tether to the tether radius is the membrane bending stiffness. Thus, the bending stiffness can be calculated directly from measurements of the tether radius as a function of force. Giant (10-50-microns diam) thin-walled vesicles were aspirated into a micropipette and a tether was pulled out of the surface by gravitational forces on small glass beads that had adhered to the vesicle surface. Because the vesicle keeps constant surface area and volume, formation of the tether requires displacement of material from the projection of the vesicle in the pipette. Tethers can be made to grow longer or shorter or to maintain equilibrium by adjusting the aspiration pressure in the micropipette at constant tether force. The ratio of the change in the length of the tether to the change in the projection length is proportional to the ratio of the pipette radius to the tether radius. Thus, knowing the density and diameter of the glass beads and measuring the displacement of the projection as a function of tether length, independent determinations of the force on the tether and the tether radius were obtained. The bending stiffness for an SOPC bilayer obtained from these data is approximately 2.0 x 10(-12) dyn cm, for tether radii in the range of 20-100 nm. An equilibrium relationship between pressure and tether force is derived which closely matches experimental observation.

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