Probing lipid membrane electrostatics
Hafner, Jason H.
Doctor of Philosophy
The electrostatic properties of lipid bilayer membranes play a significant role in many biological processes. Atomic force microscopy (AFM) is highly sensitive to membrane surface potential in electrolyte solutions. With fully characterized probe tips, AFM can perform quantitative electrostatic analysis of lipid membranes. Electrostatic interactions between Silicon nitride probes and supported zwitterionic dioleoylphosphatidylcholine (DOPC) bilayer with a variable fraction of anionic dioleoylphosphatidylserine (DOPS) were measured by AFM. Classical Gouy-Chapman theory was used to model the membrane electrostatics. The nonlinear Poisson-Boltzmann equation was numerically solved with finite element method to provide the potential distribution around the AFM tips. Theoretical tip-sample electrostatic interactions were calculated with the surface integral of both Maxwell and osmotic stress tensors on tip surface. The measured forces were interpreted with theoretical forces and the resulting surface charge densities of the membrane surfaces were in quantitative agreement with the Gouy-Chapman-Stern model of membrane charge regulation. It was demonstrated that the AFM can quantitatively detect membrane surface potential at a separation of several screening lengths, and that the AFM probe only perturbs the membrane surface potential by <2%. One important application of this technique is to estimate the dipole density of lipid membrane. Electrostatic analysis of DOPC lipid bilayers with the AFM reveals a repulsive force between the negatively charged probe tips and the zwitterionic lipid bilayers. This unexpected interaction has been analyzed quantitatively to reveal that the repulsion is due to a weak external field created by the internai membrane dipole moment. The analysis yields a dipole moment of 1.5 Debye per lipid with a dipole potential of +275 mV for supported DOPC membranes. This new ability to quantitatively measure the membrane dipole density in a noninvasive manner will be useful in identifying the biological effects of the dipole potential. Finally, heterogeneous model membranes were studied with fluid electric force microscopy (FEFM). Electrostatic mapping was demonstrated with 50 nm resolution. The capabilities of quantitative electrostatic measurement and lateral charge density mapping make AFM a unique and powerful probe of membrane electrostatics.