Characterization of a Biomimetic Polymeric Lipid Bilayer By Phase Sensitive Neutron Reflectometry

Lipid membranes, the boundaries for cellular and intracellular structures, regulate many crucial biological processes. Planar supported mimics of cell membranes are of great interest as model systems for the study of membrane structure/function phenomena in fundamental biophysics research. We studied a supported biomedically relevant membrane-mimetic system composed of a polyelectrolyte cushion, a terpolymer and a self-assembled phospholipid monolayer and obtained a detailed profile characterization of the system by neutron reflectometry.

The water-swellable hydrophilic polyelectrolyte acts as a support for the biomembrane, not unlike the cytoskeletal support found in actual mammalian cell membranes. The "cushion" polymers are fixed to the flat, hard surface by having the polymer interact with it electrostatically. The terpolymer has the following desirable features: it tethers to the polyelectrolyte layer and it creates a hydrophilic and a hydrophobic region. Unilamellar phospholipid vesicle fusion on to the hydrophobic region of the terpolymer creates the hybrid tethered membrane. For added stability to external force fields (such as shear flow), the phospholipid monolayer is then polymerized in situ, effectively anchoring the lipid layer to the hydrophobic region of the terpolymer.

Neutron reflectivity measurements were done on the polyelectrolyte layer, the polyelectrolyte layer plus terpolymer and the polylectrolyte layer plus terpolymer plus phospholipid. The layers were studied hydrated and under 95% humidity. By using two water conditions (100% D2O and 50%/50% H2O/D2O) on the polyelectrolyte layer plus terpolymer and the polylectrolyte layer plus terpolymer plus phospholipid the distribution of water in the layers was obtained.