Electrostatic swelling of bicontinuous cubic lipid phases†
Lipid bicontinuous cubic phases have attracted enormous interest as bio-compatible scaffolds for use in a wide range of applications including membrane protein crystallisation, drug delivery and biosensing. One of the major bottlenecks that has hindered exploitation of these structures is an inability to create targeted highly swollen bicontinuous cubic structures with large and tunable pore sizes. In contrast, cubic structures found in vivo have periodicities approaching the micron scale. We have been able to engineer and control highly swollen bicontinuous cubic phases of spacegroup Im3m containing only lipids by (a) increasing the bilayer stiffness by adding cholesterol and (b) inducing electrostatic repulsion across the water channels by addition of anionic lipids to monoolein. By controlling the composition of the ternary mixtures we have been able to achieve lattice parameters up to 470 Å, which is 5 times that observed in pure monoolein and nearly twice the size of any lipidic cubic phase reported previously. These lattice parameters significantly exceed the predicted maximum swelling for bicontinuous cubic lipid structures, which suggest that thermal fluctuations should destroy such phases for lattice parameters larger than 300 Å.