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How Well Can You Tailor the Charge of Lipid Vesicles?


Knowledge and control of surface charge or potential is important for tailoring colloidal interactions. In this work, we compare widely used zeta potential (ζ) measurements of charged lipid vesicle surface potential to direct measurements using the surface force apparatus (SFA). Our measurements show good agreement between the two techniques. On varying the fraction of anionic lipids dimyristoylphosphatidylserine (DMPS) or dimyristoylphosphatidylglycerol (DMPG) mixed with zwitterionic dimyristoylphosphatidylcholine (DMPC) from 0 to 100 mol % we observed a near-linear increase in membrane surface charge or potential up to 20-30 mol % charged lipids beyond which charge saturation occurred in physiological (high) salt conditions. Similarly, in low salt concentrations, a linear increase in charge/potential was found but only up to ∼5-10 mol % charged lipids beyond which the surface charge or potential leveled off. While a lower degree of ionization is expected due to the lower dielectric constant (ε ∼ 4) of the lipid acyl chain environment, increasing intramembrane electrostatic repulsion between neighboring charged lipid head groups at higher charge loading contributes to charge suppression. Measured potentials in physiological salt solutions were consistent with predictions using the Gouy-Chapman-Stern-Grahame (GCSG) model of the electrical double layer with Langmuir binding of counterions, but in low salt conditions, the model significantly overestimated the surface charge/potential. The much lower ionization in low salt (maximum ∼1-2% of total lipids ionized) instead was consistent with counterion condensation at the bilayer surface which limited the charge that could be obtained. The strong interplay between membrane composition, lipid headgroup ionization, electrolyte concentration, and solution pH complicates exact prediction and tuning of membrane surface charge for applications. However, the theoretical frameworks used here can provide guidelines to understand this interplay and establish a range of achievable potentials for a system and predict the response to triggers like pH and salt concentration changes.

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