Electric field-driven transformations of a supported model biological membrane - an electrochemical and neutron reflectivity study

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


  • I Burgess
  • M Li
  • Sarah Horswell
  • G Szymanski
  • J Lipkowski
  • And 2 others
  • J Majewski
  • S Satija

Colleges, School and Institutes


A mixed bilayer of cholesterol and dimyristoylphosphatidylcholine has been formed on a gold-coated block of quartz by fusion of small unilamellar vesicles. The formation of this bilayer lipid membrane on a conductive surface allowed us to study the influence of the support's surface charge on the structure and hydration of the bilayer lipid membrane. We have employed electrochemical measurements and the specular reflection of neutrons to measure the thickness and water content in the bilayer lipid membrane as a function of the charge on the support's surface. When the surface charge density is close to zero, the lipid vesicles fuse directly on the surface to form a bilayer with a small number of defects and hence small water content. When the support's surface is negatively charged the film swells and incorporates water. When the charge density is more negative than -8 micro C cm(-2), the bilayer starts to detach from the metal surface. However, it remains in a close proximity to the metal electrode, being suspended on a thin cushion of the electrolyte. The field-driven transformations of the bilayer lead to significant changes in the film thicknesses. At charge densities more negative than -20 micro C cm(-2), the bilayer is approximately 37 A thick and this number is comparable to the thickness determined for hydrated multilayers of dimyristoylphosphatidylcholine from x-ray diffraction experiments. The thickness of the bilayer decreases at smaller charge densities to become equal to approximately 26 A at zero charge. This result indicates that the tilt of the acyl chains with respect to the bilayer normal changes from approximately 35 degrees to 59 degrees by moving from high negative charges (and potentials) to zero charge on the metal.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1763-1776
Number of pages14
JournalBiophysical Journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2004