Journal for Biophysical Chemistry

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Open Access

Molecular-scale structural and functional characterization of sparsely tethered bilayer lipid membranes

  • Duncan J. McGillivray1, 2, 3,
  • Gintaras Valincius4,
  • David J. Vanderah5,
  • Wilma Febo-Ayala5,
  • John T. Woodward6,
  • Frank Heinrich1, 2,
  • John J. Kasianowicz7 and
  • Mathias Löscheb1, 2Email author

Received: 20 November 2006

Accepted: 16 January 2007


Surface-tethered biomimetic bilayer membranes (tethered bilayer lipid membranes (tBLMs)) were formed on gold surfaces from phospholipids and a synthetic 1-thiahexa(ethylene oxide) lipid, WC14. They were characterized using electrochemical impedance spectroscopy, neutron reflection (NR), and Fourier-transform infrared reflection-absorption spectroscopy (FT-IRRAS) to obtain functional and structural information. The authors found that electrically insulating membranes (conductance and capacitance as low as 1 μS cm−2 and 0.6 μF cm−2, respectively) with high surface coverage (>95% completion of the outer leaflet) can be formed from a range of lipids in a simple two-step process that consists of the formation of a self-assembled monolayer (SAM) and bilayer completion by “rapid solvent exchange.” NR provided a molecularly resolved characterization of the interface architecture and, in particular, the constitution of the space between the tBLM and the solid support. In tBLMs based on SAMs of pure WC14, the hexa(ethylene oxide) tether region had low hydration even though FT-IRRAS showed that this region is structurally disordered. However, on mixed SAMs made from the coadsorption of WC14 with a short-chain “backfiller,” ß-mercaptoethanol, the submembrane spaces between the tBLM and the substrates contained up to 60% exchangeable solvent by volume, as judged from NR and contrast variation of the solvent. Complete and stable “sparsely tethered” BLMs (stBLMs) can be readily prepared from SAMs chemisorbed from solutions with low WC14 proportions. Phospholipids with unsaturated or saturated, straight or branched chains all formed qualitatively similar stBLMs.