The atomic force microscope (AFM) has been used to image a variety of biological systems, but has rarely been applied to soluble protein-lipid complexes. One of the primary physiological protein-lipid complexes is the high-density lipoproteins (HDL), responsible for the transport of cholesterol from the peripheral tissues and other lipoproteins to the liver. We have used the AFM to directly image discoidal reconstituted HDL (rHDL) particles for the first time. The height of these particles is consistent with a phospholipid bilayer structure, but careful high resolution measurements of particle diameters has indicated that they fuse when adsorbed to mica. Furthermore, it has been demonstrated that the AFM can be used to initiate this bilayer fusion in a controlled manner, allowing the fabrication of stabilized, nanometer scale, phospholipid bilayer 'domains'.
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