Preparation and characterization of a supramolecular hydrogel made of phospholipids and oleic acid with a high water content†
A hydrogel formed with phospholipids and fatty acids would be of great interest in the medical field due to the biological relevance that these molecules have in living organisms. However, the tendency of phospholipid mixtures to form vesicular or micellar aggregates at high water content hinders the formation of this type of hydrogel. In this study, a highly hydrated hydrogel (95% water) was formed with hydrogenated phosphatidylcholine and oleic acid. The preparation method involved a freeze-heating cycle of the aqueous lipid mixture, favouring the supramolecular aggregation of these molecules into a microscopic spongy morphology. Confocal fluorescence imaging showed that the microstructure of the hydrogel is made from the aggregation of giant multilamellar vesicles (5–20 μm diameter) while transmission electron microscopy revealed the existence of nanosized unilamellar vesicles (150 nm diameter) coexisting with lipid lamellae. Despite this type of aggregation, X-ray scattering experiments performed on the hydrogel show almost no correlation between lipid membranes. In terms of rheological properties, the material shows a prevalent elastic behaviour and low structural strength, a consequence of non-covalent interactions. With such properties and composition, this structured but easily deformable material might become a useful tool for biomedical applications.