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Fluctuations and destabilization of single phospholipid bilayers

T. Charitat, S. Lecuyer, G. Fragneto

Supported phospholipid bilayers are interesting model systems for biologists and present fascinating physical properties. The authors present an extensive experimental study of the dynamic properties of supported bilayers. The structure and the equilibrium properties of single and double supported
bilayers were investigated with neutron reflectivity. The submicronic fluctuation spectrum of a nearly free “floating” bilayer was determined using off-specular x-ray scattering: the surface tension of the bilayer, its bending modulus, and the intermembrane potential could be determined. Using fluorescence microscopy, the authors showed that this well-controlled single bilayer can form vesicles. Destabilization occurred either at the main gel-fluid transition of the lipids and could be interpreted in terms of a decrease in the bending rigidity or under an ac low-frequency electric field applied in the fluid phase. In the latter case, the authors also studied the effect of the electric field at the molecular length scale by neutron reflectivity. In both cases, destabilization leads to the formation of relatively monodisperse vesicles. This could give further understanding on the vesicle formation mechanism and on the parameters that determine the vesicle size.