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Biophys J. 1991 Jan;59(1):174-85.

Fluid bilayer structure determination by the combined use of x-ray and neutron diffraction. II. "Composition-space" refinement method.

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Department of Physiology and Biophysics, University of California, Irvine 92717.


This is the second of two papers describing a method for the joint refinement of the structure of fluid bilayers using x-ray and neutron diffraction data. We showed in the first paper (Wiener, M. C., and S. H. White. 1990. Biophys. J. 59:162-173) that fluid bilayers generally consist of a nearly perfect lattice of thermally disordered unit cells and that the canonical resolution d/hmax is a measure of the widths of quasimolecular components represented by simple Gaussian functions. The thermal disorder makes possible a "composition space" representation in which the quasimolecular Gaussian distributions describe the number or probability of occupancy per unit length across the width of the bilayer of each component. This representation permits the joint refinement of neutron and x-ray lamellar diffraction data by means of a single quasimolecular structure that is fit simultaneously to both diffraction data sets. Scaling of each component by the appropriate neutron or x-ray scattering length maps the composition space profile to the appropriate scattering length space for comparison to experimental data. Other extensive properties, such as mass, can also be obtained by an appropriate scaling of the refined composition space structure. Based upon simple bilayer models involving crystal and liquid crystal structural information, we estimate that a fluid bilayer with hmax observed diffraction orders will be accurately represented by a structure with approximately hmax quasimolecular components. Strategies for assignment of quasimolecular components are demonstrated through detailed parsing of a phospholipid molecule based upon the one-dimensional projection of the crystal structure of dimyristoylphosphatidylcholine. Finally, we discuss in detail the number of experimental variables required for the composition space joint refinement. We find fluid bilayer structures to be marginally determined by the experimental data. The analysis of errors, which takes on particular importance under these circumstances, is also discussed.

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