Biophysical journal

Adhesion and merging of lipid bilayers: a method for measuring the free energy of adhesion and hemifusion.

PMID 21320443


Lipid bilayers can be induced to adhere to each other by molecular mediators, and, depending on the lipid composition, such adhesion can lead to merging of the contacting monolayers in a process known as hemifusion. Such bilayer-bilayer reactions have never been systematically studied. In the course of our studies of membrane-active molecules, we encountered such reactions. We believe that they need to be understood whenever bilayer-bilayer interactions take place, such as during membrane fusion. For illustration, we discuss three examples: spontaneous adhesion between phospholipid bilayers induced by low pH, polymer-induced osmotic depletion attraction between lipid bilayers, and anionic lipid bilayers cross-bridged by multicationic peptides. Our purpose here is to describe a general method for studying such interactions. We used giant unilamellar vesicles, each of which was aspirated in a micropipette so that we could monitor the tension of the membrane and the membrane area changes during the bilayer-bilayer interaction. We devised a general method for measuring the free energy of adhesion or hemifusion. The results show that the energies of adhesion or hemifusion of lipid bilayers could vary over 2 orders of magnitude from -1 to -50 × 10(-5) J/m(2) in these examples alone. Our method can be used to measure the energy of transition in each step of lipid transformation during membrane fusion. This is relevant for current research on membrane fusion, which focuses on how fusion proteins induce lipid transformations.