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J Phys Chem B. 2015 Sep 17;119(37):12212-23. doi: 10.1021/acs.jpcb.5b05057. Epub 2015 Sep 4.

New Insights into the Growth and Transformation of Vesicles: A Free-Flow Electrophoresis Study.

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Institut für Pharmazie, Friedrich Schiller Universität Jena ; Lessingstrasse 8, D-07743 Jena, Germany.
Department of Pharmaceutical Technology and Biopharmacy, Albert Ludwigs University Freiburg , D-79104 Freiburg, Germany.
Science Department, Roma Tre University ; Viale G. Marconi 446, I-00146 Rome, Italy.
Elektronenmikroskopisches Zentrum, Friedrich Schiller Universität Jena ; Ziegelmühlenweg 1, D-07743 Jena, Germany.
Department of Physics, North Dakota State University , Fargo North Dakota 58108-6050, United States.


The spontaneous formation of lipid vesicles, in particular fatty acid vesicles, is considered an important physical process at the roots of cellular life. It has been demonstrated previously that the addition of fatty acid micelles to preformed vesicles induces vesicle self-reproduction by a growth-division mechanism. Despite multiple experimental efforts, it remains unresolved how vesicles rearrange upon the addition of fresh membrane-forming compounds, and whether solutes that are initially encapsulated inside the mother vesicles are evenly redistributed among the daughter ones. Here we investigate the growth-division of 1-palmitoyl-2-oleoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphatidylcholine (POPC) vesicles, which, following the addition of oleate micelles, form mixed oleate/POPC vesicles. Our approach is based on free-flow electrophoresis (FFE) and cryogenic transmission electronmicroscopy (cryo-TEM). Two new features emerge from this study. FFE analysis unexpectedly reveals that the uptake of oleate micelles by POPC vesicles follows two different pathways depending on the micelles/vesicles ratio. At low oleate molar fractions (<0.35), plain incorporation of oleate into pre-existing POPC vesicles is our dominant observation. In contrast, oleate-rich and oleate-poor daughter vesicles are generated from parent POPC vesicles when the oleate molar fraction exceeds 0.35. Cryo-TEM reveals that when ferritin-filled vesicles grow and divide, some vesicles contain ferritin at increased concentrations, others are empty. Intriguingly, in some cases, ferritin appears to be highly concentrated inside the vesicles. These observations imply a specific redistribution (partitioning) of encapsulated solutes among nascent vesicles during the growth-division steps. We have interpreted our observations by assuming that freshly added oleate molecules are taken-up preferentially (cooperatively) by oleate-rich membrane regions that form spontaneously in POPC/oleate vesicles when a certain threshold (oleate molar fraction ca. 0.35) is surpassed. The proposed cooperative mechanism could be based on differential microscopic constants for oleate/oleic acid dynamics in oleate-rich and oleate-poor membrane regions, which eventually generate populations of oleate-rich and oleate-poor vesicles.

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