Controlled shaping of lipid vesicles in a microfluidic diffusion chamber†
Synthetic lipid vesicles represent an important model system for studying membrane processes, which often depend on membrane shape, but controlled shaping of vesicles remains a challenging experimental task. Here, we present a novel method for shaping giant lipid vesicles by independently regulating osmotic conditions and the concentration of membrane-shaping molecules, which intercalate into the membrane and drive membrane bending. The method is based on the microfluidic diffusion chamber, where the solution around the vesicles can be repeatedly exchanged solely by diffusion, without any hydrodynamic flow that could deform the membrane. By using lipopolysaccharide (LPS) as a vesicle shape-modifying molecule, we demonstrate controlled and reversible transformations across three shape classes, from invaginated to evaginated vesicles. We show that extensive shape transformations can lead to shapes that are assumed to comprise narrow membrane necks that hinder equilibration of the membrane and the vesicle interior. All the observed shapes are in good agreement with the predictions of the area-difference-elasticity model applied to the vesicles that were denser than their surrounding solution. Our results validate the microfluidic diffusion chamber as a universal framework for membrane shaping that could also pave the way towards controlled fabrication of synthetic membranes resembling cell-compartments with large surface-to-volume ratios.