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Biophys J. 1981 Sep;35(3):637-52.

Thermoelasticity of large lecithin bilayer vesicles.


Micromechanical experiments on large lecithin bilayer vesicles as a function of temperature have demonstrated an essential feature of bilayer vesicles as closed systems: the bilayer can exist in a tension-free state (within the limits of experimental resolution, i.e., less than 10(-2) dyn/cm). Furthermore, because of the fixed internal volume, there is a critical temperature at which the vesicle becomes a tension-free sphere. Below this temperature, thermoelastic tension builds up in the membrane and the vesicle's internal pressure increases while the surface area remains constant. Above this temperature, the vesicle's surface area increases while the tension and internal pressure are negligible. Without mechanical support, the vesicles fragment into small vesicles because they have insufficient surface rigidity. In the upper temperature range we have measured the increase of surface area with temperature. These data established the thermal area expansivity to be 2.4 X 10(-3)/degrees C. At constant temperature, we used either pipet aspiration with suction pressures up to 10(4) dyn/cm2 or compression against a flat surface with forces up to 10(-2) dyn to produce area dilation of the vesicle surface on the order of 1%. The rate of increase of membrane tension with area dilation was calculated, which established the elastic area compressibility modulus to be 140 dyn/cm. The tension limit that produced lysis was observed to be 3-4 dyn/cm (equivalent to 2-3% area increase). The product of the elastic area compressibility modulus, the thermal area expansivity, and the temperature gives the reversible heat of expansion at constant temperature for the bilayer. This value is 100 ergs/cm2 at 25 degrees C, or approximately 5 kcal/mol of lecithin. Similarly, the product of the thermal area expansivity multiplied by the area compressibility modulus determines the rate of increase of thermoelastic tension with decrease in temperature when the area is held constant, i.e., -0.34 dyn/cm/degrees C.

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