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Langmuir. 2005 Feb 15;21(4):1377-88.

Measuring lipid asymmetry in planar supported bilayers by fluorescence interference contrast microscopy.

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Department of Molecular Physiology and Biological Physics, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia 22908-0736, USA.


There is substantial scientific and practical interest in engineering supported lipid bilayers with asymmetric lipid distributions as models for biological cell membranes. In principle, it should be possible to make asymmetric supported lipid bilayers by either the Langmuir-Blodgett/Schafer (LB/LS) or Langmuir-Blodgett/vesicle fusion (LB/VF) techniques (Kalb et al. Biochim. Biophys. Acta 1992, 1103, 307-316). However, the retention of asymmetry in biologically relevant lipid bilayers has never been experimentally examined in any of these systems. In the present work, we developed a technique that is based on fluorescence interference contrast (FLIC) microscopy to measure lipid asymmetry in supported bilayers. We compared the final degree of lipid asymmetry in LB/LS and LB/VF bilayers with and without cholesterol in liquid-ordered (l(o)) and liquid-disordered (l(d)) phases. Of five different fluorescent lipid probes that were examined, 1,2-dipalmitoyl-phosphatidylethanolamine-N-[lissamine rhodamine B] was the best for studying supported bilayers of complex composition and phase by FLIC microscopy. An asymmetrically labeled bilayer made by the LB/LS method was found to be at best 70-80% asymmetric once completed. In LB/LS bilayers of either l(o) or l(d) phase, cholesterol increased the degree of lipid mixing between the opposing monolayers. The use of a tethered polymer support for the initial monolayer did not improve lipid asymmetry in the resulting bilayer. However, asymmetric LB/VF bilayers retained nearly 100% asymmetric label, with or without the use of a tethered polymer support. Finally, lipid mixing across the center of LB/LS bilayers was found to have drastic effects on the appearance of l(d)-l(o) phase coexistence as shown by epifluorescence microscopy.

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