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Adv Colloid Interface Sci. 1991 Mar;35:31-138.

Phospholipids at the oil/water interface: adsorption and interfacial phenomena in an electric field.

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Institute of Chemistry, Far East Department, Academy of Sciences of the USSR, Vladivostok.


Interfacial effects produced in an immiscible liquid system by the action of an external electric field have been considered. The addition of small amounts of neutral phospholipids to the nonaqueous phase has been shown to result in a marked increase in the sensitivity of the interfacial boundary to the voltage applied, which is manifested by: (i) an accelerated decrease of the interfacial tension after the two immiscible liquid phases have been brought into contact; (ii) reduced interfacial tension, by 20-30 mN/m, at the oil/water interface at field strengths of 1-10 kV/m (the interfacial tension drop in the absence of phospholipids does not exceed 5 mN/m); (iii) development of electrohydrodynamic instability at the planar dividing surface between phases; and (iv) dispersion of water into the nonaqueous phase at smaller field strengths by a factor of about 100 as compared to those normally required in the absence of phospholipids. In order to gain a deeper insight into the mechanisms of interfacial phenomena, mainly exemplified by the n-heptane/water system containing phosphatidylcholine, three major issues have been considered: (1) Kinetics of the adsorption of phospholipid at the oil/water interface from the nonaqueous phase, and effects produced by exposure to an external electric field; also, the adsorption under equilibrium conditions, and the structure of the adsorption layer formed. (2) Interactions between neutral phospholipid and inorganic or organic ions at the interfacial boundary under the voltage applied. (3) Conditions for the occurrence of electrohydrodynamic instability at the dividing surface between oil and water and the formation of a water-in-oil emulsion; also aggregation and gelation processes induced in the nonaqueous phospholipid solution bulk by the action of a weak external electric field. Throughout the present paper, an attempt has been made to relate the microscopic behaviour of phospholipids under an external electric field to macroscopically observable properties at the movable interfacial boundaries. The adsorption studies have shown that phosphatidylcholine is prone to self-organization into a liquid-crystalline state at an immiscible liquid interface. The disintegration of the interfacial lipid film thus formed by the action of a weak electric field has been explained as due to an enhanced electrohydrodynamic instability of liquid crystals. This results in the formation of either an emulsion, or a microemulsion in the nonaqueous solution bulk. The formation of a microemulsion is manifested by the appearance of an optically anisotropic gel, stable only under an external applied electric field, in the nonaqueous solution bulk.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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