Super-swelling behavior of stacked lipid bilayer systems

Jacob Rueben, Dylan Steer, Cecília Leal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Abstract: Bilayer systems comprising lipid mixtures are the most well-studied model of biological membranes. While the plasma membrane of the cell is a single bilayer, many intra- and extra-cellular biomembranes comprise stacks of bilayers. Most bilayer stacks in nature are periodic, maintaining a precise water layer separation between bilayers. That equilibrium water separation is governed by multiple inter-bilayer forces and is highly responsive. Biomembranes re-configure inter-bilayer spacing in response to temperature, composition, or mass transport cues. In synthetic bilayer systems for applications in cosmetics or topical treatments, control of the hydration level is a critical design handle. Herein we investigate a binary lipid system that leverages key inter-bilayer forces leading to unprecedented levels of aqueous swelling while maintaining a coherent multilamellar form. We found that combining cationic lipids with bicontinuous cubic phase-forming lipids (lipids with positive Gaussian modulus), results in the stabilization of multilamellar phases against repulsive steric forces that typically lead to bilayer delamination at high degrees of swelling. Using ultra-small-angle X-ray scattering alongside confocal laser scanning microscopy, we characterized various super-swelled states of 1,2-dioleoyl-3-trimethylammonium-propane (DOTAP) and glycerol monooleate (GMO) lipids, as well as other analogous systems, at varied concentration and molar ratios. Through these experiments we established swelling profiles of various binary lipid systems that were near-linear with decreasing lipid volume fraction, showing maximum swelling with periodicity well above 200 nanometers. Graphic abstract: Confocal fluorescence micrograph of super-swelled multilamellar structures in 90GMOD sample at 25 mM concentration. Inset plot shows intensity profile of orange line, with pink triangles indicating maxima.[Figure not available: see fulltext.]

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number67
JournalEuropean Physical Journal E
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2023
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • Biophysics
  • Biotechnology
  • General Materials Science
  • Surfaces and Interfaces


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