Effect of molecule structure on electrochemical phase behavior of phospholipid bilayers on Au(111)

Philip Jemmett, David C Milan, Richard J Nichols, Liam Cox, Sarah L Horswell

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Lipid bilayers form the basis of biological cell membranes, selective and responsive barriers vital to the function of the cell. The structure and function of the bilayer are controlled by interactions between the constituent molecules and so vary with the composition of the membrane. These interactions also influence how a membrane behaves in the presence of electric fields they frequently experience in nature. In this study, we characterize the electrochemical phase behavior of dipalmitoylphosphatidylcholine (DPPC), a glycerophospholipid prevalent in nature and often used in model systems and healthcare applications. DPPC bilayers were formed on Au(111) electrodes using Langmuir-Blodgett and Langmuir-Schaefer deposition and studied with electrochemical methods, atomic force microscopy (AFM) and in situ polarization-modulated infrared reflection absorption spectroscopy (PM-IRRAS). The coverage of the substrate determined with AFM is in accord with that estimated from differential capacitance measurements, and the bilayer thickness is slightly higher than for bilayers of the similar but shorter-chained lipid, dimyristoylphosphatidylcholine (DMPC). DPPC bilayers exhibit similar electrochemical response to DMPC bilayers, but the organization of molecules differs, particularly at negative charge densities. Infrared spectra show that DPPC chains tilt as the charge density on the metal is increased in the negative direction, but, unlike in DMPC, the chains then return to their original tilt angle at the most negative potentials. The onset of the increase in the chain tilt angle coincides with a decrease in solvation around the ester carbonyl groups, and the conformation around the acyl chain linkage differs from that in DMPC. We interpret the differences in behavior between bilayers formed from these structurally similar lipids in terms of stronger dispersion forces between DPPC chains and conclude that relatively subtle changes in molecular structure may have a significant impact on a membrane's response to its environment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11887-11899
Number of pages13
Issue number40
Early online date30 Sept 2021
Publication statusPublished - 12 Oct 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the BBSRC-funded Midlands Integrative Biosciences Training Partnership Centre for Doctoral Training (grant number BB/J014532/1). The authors are indebted to Prof. V. Zamlynny and Prof. J. Lipkowski for kindly allowing the authors to use the Fresnel software and to Dr. A. L. N. Pinheiro for help with the data acquisition software. The technical support of A. Rothin, S. Williams, and S. G. Arkless is gratefully acknowledged. Data created during this research are openly available from the UBIRA eData repository at https://doi.org/10.25500/edata.bham.00000718 .

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors. Published by American Chemical Society.


  • adsorption
  • phospholipid
  • biomimetic membrane
  • spectroelectrochemistry
  • infrared spectroscopy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry


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