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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Feb 26;110(9):3242-7. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1213994110. Epub 2013 Feb 11.

Morphology transition in lipid vesicles due to in-plane order and topological defects.

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Physics Department, University of California, Merced, CA 95343, USA.


Complex morphologies in lipid membranes typically arise due to chemical heterogeneity, but in the tilted gel phase, complex shapes can form spontaneously even in a membrane containing only a single lipid component. We explore this phenomenon via experiments and coarse-grained simulations on giant unilamellar vesicles of 1,2-dipalmitoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine. When cooled from the untilted L(α) liquid-crystalline phase into the tilted gel phase, vesicles deform from smooth spheres to disordered, highly crumpled shapes. We propose that this shape evolution is driven by nucleation of complex membrane microstructure with topological defects in the tilt orientation that induce nonuniform membrane curvature. Coarse-grained simulations demonstrate this mechanism and show that kinetic competition between curvature change and defect motion can trap vesicles in deeply metastable, defect-rich structures.

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