Atomic Force Microscopy Study on the Stiffness of Nanosized Liposomes Containing Charged Lipids

It has recently been recognized that the mechanical properties of lipid nanoparticles play an important role during in vitro and in vivo behaviors such as cellular uptake, blood circulation, and biodistribution. However, there have been no quantitative investigations of the effect of commonly used charged lipids on the stiffness of nanosized liposomes. In this study, by means of atomic force microscopy (AFM), we quantified the stiffness of nanosized liposomes composed of neutrally charged lipids combined with positively or negatively charged lipids while simultaneously imaging the liposomes in aqueous medium. Our results showed that charged lipids, whether negatively or positively charged, have the effect of reducing the stiffness of nanosized liposomes, independently of the saturation degree of the lipid acyl chains; the measured stiffness values of liposomes containing charged lipids are 30–60% lower than those of their neutral counterpart liposomes. In addition, we demonstrated that the Laurdan generalized polarization values, which are related to the hydration degree of the liposomal membrane interface and often used as a qualitative indicator of liposomal membrane stiffness, do not directly correlate with the physical stiffness values of the liposomes prepared in this study. However, our results indicate that direct quantitative AFM measurement is a valuable method to gain molecular-scale information about how the hydration degree of liposomal interfaces reflects (or does not reflect) liposome stiffness as a macroscopic property. Our AFM method will contribute to the quantitative characterization of the nano–bio interaction of nanoparticles and to the optimization of the lipid composition of liposomes for clinical use.