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Biochemistry. 1988 Mar 22;27(6):1881-8.

Ionization and phase behavior of fatty acids in water: application of the Gibbs phase rule.

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Housman Medical Research Center, Department of Medicine, Boston University School of Medicine, Massachusetts 02118.


The phase behavior of several medium-chain (10- and 12-carbon) and long-chain (18-carbon) fatty acids in water was examined as a function of the ionization state of the carboxyl group. Equilibrium titration curves were generated above and below fatty acid and acid-soap chain melting temperatures and critical micelle concentrations, and the phases formed were characterized by X-ray diffraction, 13C NMR spectroscopy, and phase-contrast and polarized light microscopy. The resulting titration curves were divided into five regions: (i) at pH values less than 7, a two-phase region containing oil or fatty acid crystals and an aqueous phase; (ii) at pH approximately 7, a three-phase region containing oil, lamellar, and aqueous (or fatty acid crystals, 1:1 acid-soap crystals, and aqueous) phases; (iii) between pH 7 and 9, a two-phase region containing a lamellar fatty acid/soap (or crystalline 1:1 acid-soap) phase in an aqueous phase; (iv) at pH approximately 9, a three-phase region containing lamellar fatty acid-soap (or crystalline 1:1 acid-soap), micellar, and aqueous phases; and (v) at pH values greater than 9, a two-phase region containing micellar and aqueous phases. Interpretation of the results using the Gibbs phase rule indicated that, for oleic acid/potassium oleate, the composition of the lamellar fatty acid/soap phase varied from approximately 1:1 to 1:3 un-ionized to ionized fatty acid species. In addition, constant pH regions observed in titration curves were a result of thermodynamic invariance (zero degrees of freedom) rather than buffering capacity. The results provide insights into the physical states of fatty acids in biological systems.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS).

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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