Biophysical journal

Nonequilibrium phenomena in the phase separation of a two-component lipid bilayer.

PMID 11806924


Lipid bilayers composed of two phospholipids with significant acyl-chain mismatch behave as nonideal mixtures. Although many of these systems are well characterized from the equilibrium point of view, studies concerning their nonequilibrium dynamics are still rare. The kinetics of lipid demixing (phase separation) was studied in model membranes (large unilamellar vesicles of 1:1 dilauroylphosphatidylcholine (C(12) acyl chain) and distearoylphosphatidylcholine (C(18) acyl chain)). For this purpose, photophysical techniques (fluorescence intensity, anisotropy, and fluorescence resonance energy transfer) were applied using suitable probes (gel phase probe trans-parinaric acid and fluid phase probe N-(7-nitrobenz-2-oxa-1,3-diazol-4-yl)-dilauroylphosphatidylethanolamine). The nonequilibrium situation was induced by a sudden thermal quench from a one-fluid phase equilibrium situation (higher temperature) to the gel/fluid coexistence range (lower temperature). We verified that the attainment of equilibrium is a very slow process (occurs in a time scale of hours), leading to large domains at infinite time. The nonequilibrium structure stabilization is due essentially to temporarily rigidified C(12) chains in the interface between gel/fluid domains, which decrease the interfacial tension by acting as surfactants. The relaxation process becomes faster with the increase of the temperature drop. In addition, heterogeneity is already present in the supposed homogeneous fluid mixture at the higher temperature.