Direct measurement of DNA-mediated adhesion between lipid bilayers
Multivalent interactions between deformable mesoscopic units are ubiquitous in biology, where membrane macromolecules mediate the interactions between neighbouring living cells and between cells and solid substrates. Lately, analogous artificial materials have been synthesised by functionalising the outer surface of compliant Brownian units, for example emulsion droplets and lipid vesicles, with selective linkers, in particular short DNA sequences. This development extended the range of applicability of DNA as a selective glue, originally applied to solid nano and colloidal particles. On very deformable lipid vesicles, the coupling between statistical effects of multivalent interactions and mechanical deformation of the membranes gives rise to complex emergent behaviours, as we recently contributed to demonstrate [Parolini et al., Nat. Commun., 2015, 6, 5948]. Several aspects of the complex phenomenology observed in these systems still lack a quantitative experimental characterisation and a fundamental understanding. Here we focus on the DNA-mediated multivalent interactions of a single liposome adhering to a flat supported bilayer. This simplified geometry enables the estimate of the membrane tension induced by the DNA-mediated adhesive forces acting on the liposome. Our experimental investigation is completed by morphological measurements and the characterisation of the DNA-melting transition, probed by in situ Förster Resonant Energy Transfer spectroscopy. Experimental results are compared with the predictions of an analytical theory that couples the deformation of the vesicle to a full description of the statistical mechanics of mobile linkers. With at most one fitting parameter, our theory is capable of semi-quantitatively matching experimental data, confirming the quality of the underlying assumptions.