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Asymmetric Ionic Conditions Generate Large Membrane Curvatures

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journal contribution
posted on 20.11.2018, 00:00 by Marzieh Karimi, Jan Steinkühler, Debjit Roy, Raktim Dasgupta, Reinhard Lipowsky, Rumiana Dimova
Biological membranes possess intrinsic asymmetry. This asymmetry is associated not only with leaflet composition in terms of membrane species but also with differences in the cytosolic and periplasmic solutions containing macromolecules and ions. There has been a long quest for understanding the effect of ions on the physical and morphological properties of membranes. Here, we elucidate the changes in the mechanical properties of membranes exposed to asymmetric buffer conditions and the associated curvature generation. As a model system, we used giant unilamellar vesicles (GUVs) with asymmetric salt and sugar solutions on the two sides of the membrane. We aspirated the GUVs into micropipettes and attached small beads to their membranes. An optical tweezer was used to exert a local force on a bead, thereby pulling out a membrane tube from the vesicle. The assay allowed us to measure the spontaneous curvature and the bending rigidity of the bilayer in the presence of different ions and sugar. At low sugar/salt (inside/out) concentrations, the membrane spontaneous curvature generated by NaCl and KCl is close to zero, but negative in the presence of LiCl. In the latter case, the membrane bulges away from the salt solution. At high sugar/salt conditions, the membranes were observed to become more flexible and the spontaneous curvature was enhanced to even more negative values, comparable to those generated by some proteins. Our findings reveal the reshaping role of alkali chlorides on biomembranes.

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