Structure of Phospholipid Mixed Micelles (Bicelles) Studied by Small-Angle X‑ray Scattering

Mixed phospholipid micelles (bicelles) are widely applied in nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) studies of membrane proteins in solution, as they can solubilize these proteins and provide a membrane-like environment. In this work, the structure of bicelles of dihexanoyl phosphatidyl choline (DHPC) and dimyristoyl phosphatidyl choline (DMPC) at different ratios was determined by small-angle X-ray scattering (SAXS) at 37 °C. Samples with concentrations as applied for NMR measurements with 28 wt % lipids were diluted to avoid concentration effects in the SAXS data. The DMPC/DHPC ratio within the bicelles was kept constant by diluting with solutions of finite DHPC concentrations, where the concentration of free DHPC is the same as in the original solution. Absolute-scale modeling of the SAXS data using molecular and concentration constraints reveals a relatively complex set of morphologies of the lipid aggregates as a function of the molar ratio Q of DMPC to DHPC. At Q = 0 (pure DHPC lipids), oblate core–shell micelles are present. At Q = 0.5, the bicelles have a tablet-shaped core–shell cylindrical form with an ellipsoidal cross section. For Q = 1, 2, 3.2, and 4, the bicelles have a rectangular cuboidal structure with a core and a shell, for which the overall length and width increase with Q. At Q = ∞ (pure DMPC), there is coexistence between multilamellar structures and free bilayers. For Q = 1–4, the hydrocarbon core is relatively narrow and the headgroup thickness on the flat areas is larger than that of, respectively, pure DHPC and DMPC, suggesting some mixing of DHPC into these areas and staggering of the molecules. This is further supported by comparisons of the ratio of the areas of rim and flat parts and estimates of the composition of the flat areas.