The use of liposomes as drug delivery systems has been limited by their rapid clearance from circulation by the mononuclear phagocyte system. Recent studies have found that circulation times can be greatly enhanced by incorporating a small amount of modified lipids whose headgroups are derivatized with a bulky water soluble polymeric chain of poly ethylene oxide. We report here a systematic study using the Surface Forces Apparatus to measure directly the interactions between two phosphatidyl ethanolamine lipid bilayers, exposing this polymeric headgroup at different concentrations in the bilayer. We found that the force becomes repulsive at all separations and that the thickness of the steric barrier could be controlled easily by adjusting the concentration of the modified lipids. Equilibrium force profiles were measured that were reversible and largely insensitive to changes in electrolyte concentration and temperature. The results have enabled the Dolan and Edwards theory for the steric forces of low coverage polymer surfaces and the Alexander de Gennes theory for high coverage surfaces to be tested, and both were found to apply. We conclude that these simple theories can be used to model the interactions of surprisingly short segments and, hence, apply to such systems as lipids with bulky headgroups and liposomes containing a sterically stabilizing polymer.
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