Imaging non-classical mechanical responses of lipid membranes using molecular rotors†
Lipid packing in cellular membranes has a direct effect on membrane tension and microviscosity, and plays a central role in cellular adaptation, homeostasis and disease. According to conventional mechanical descriptions, viscosity and tension are directly interconnected, with increased tension leading to decreased membrane microviscosity. However, the intricate molecular interactions that combine to build the structure and function of a cell membrane suggest a more complex relationship between these parameters. In this work, a viscosity-sensitive fluorophore (‘molecular rotor’) is used to map changes in microviscosity in model membranes under conditions of osmotic stress. Our results suggest that the relationship between membrane tension and microviscosity is strongly influenced by the bilayer's lipid composition. In particular, we show that the effects of increasing tension are minimised for membranes that exhibit liquid disordered (Ld) – liquid ordered (Lo) phase coexistence; while, surprisingly, membranes in pure gel and Lo phases exhibit a negative compressibility behaviour, i.e. they soften upon compression.