Detection of liposome membrane viscosity perturbations with ratiometric molecular rotors.

PMID 21354253


Molecular rotors are a form of fluorescent intramolecular charge-transfer complexes that can undergo intramolecular twisting motion upon photoexcitation. Twisted-state formation leads to non-radiative relaxation that competes with fluorescence emission. In bulk solutions, these molecules exhibit a viscosity-dependent quantum yield. On the molecular scale, the fluorescence emission is a function of the local free volume, which in turn is related to the local micro-viscosity. Membrane viscosity, and the inverse; fluidity, are characteristic terms used to describe the ease of movement withing the membrane. Often, changes in membrane viscosity govern intracellular processes and are indicative of a disease state. Molecular rotors have been used to investigate viscosity changes in liposomes and cells, but accuracy is affected by local concentration gradients and sample optical properties. We have developed self-calibrating ratiometric molecular rotors to overcome this challenge and integrated the new molecules into a DLPC liposome model exposed to the membrane-fluidizing agent propanol. We show that the ratiometric emission intensity linearly decreases with the propanol exposure and that the ratiometric intensity is widely independent of the total liposome concentration. Conversely, dye concentration inside liposomes influences the sensitivity of the system. We suggest that the new self-calibrating dyes can be used for real-time viscosity sensing in liposome systems with the advantages of lifetime measurements, but with low-cost steady-state instrumentation.