Packing and mobility of hydrocarbon chains in phospholipid lyotropic liquid crystalline lamellar phases and liposomes: characterisation by positron annihilation lifetime spectroscopy (PALS)†
Lipid lamellar mesophases and their colloidal dispersions (liposomes) are increasingly being deployed in vivo as drug delivery vehicles, and also as models of biological membranes in fundamental biophysics studies. The permeability and diffusion of small molecules such as drugs is accommodated by a change in local curvature and molecular packing (mesophase behaviour) of the bilayer membrane molecules. Positron annihilation lifetime spectroscopy (PALS) is capable of providing in situ molecular level information on changes in free volume and void space arising from such changes in a non-perturbative manner. In this work PALS was used to systematically characterise the temperature-induced melting transitions (Tm) of saturated and unsaturated phospholipid–water systems while systematically varying lipid chain length, as both bulk lamellar mesophase and as aqueous colloidal dispersions (liposomes). A four-component fit of the data was used that provides separate PALS lifetimes for the aqueous (τ3) and organic domains (τ4). The oPs lifetime (τ4), for the lamellar phases of DSPC (C18:0), DPPC (C16:0), DMPC (C14:0) and DLPC (C12:0) was found to be independent of chain length, with characteristic lifetime value τ4 ∼ 3.4 ns. τ4 is consistently larger in the dispersed liposomes compared to the bulk mesophases, suggesting that the hydrocarbon chains are more mobile. The use of contemporary and consistent analytical approaches as described in this study is the key to future deployment of PALS to interrogate the in situ influence of drugs on membrane and cellular microenvironments.