Structural Evaluation of Phospholipid Bicelles for Solution-State Studies of Membrane-Associated Biomolecules

Several complementary physical techniques have been used to characterize the aggregate structures formed in solutions containing dimyristoylphosphatidylcholine (DMPC)/dihexanoylphosphatidylcholine (DHPC) at ratios of ≤ 0.5 and to establish their morphology and lipid organization as that of bicelles. ^31P NMR studies showed that the DMPC and DHPC components were highly segregated over a wide range of DMPC/DHPC ratios (q = 0.05–0.5) and temperatures (15°C and 37°C). Only at phospholipid concentrations below 130 mM did the bicelles appear to undergo a change in morphology. These results were corroborated by fluorescence data, which demonstrated the inverse dependence of bicelle size on phospholipid concentration as well as a distinctive change in phospholipid arrangement at low concentrations. In addition, dynamic light scattering and electron microscopy studies supported the hypothesis that the bicellar phospholipid aggregates are disk shaped. The radius of the planar domain of the disk was found to be directly proportional to the ratio of DMPC/DHPC and inversely proportional to the total phospholipid concentration when the DMPC/DHPC ratio was held constant at 0.5. Taken together, these results suggest that bicelles with low q retain the morphology and bilayer organization typical of their liquid-crystalline counterparts, making them useful membrane mimetics.