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Mechanics of lipid bilayer junctions affecting the size of a connecting lipid nanotube

Roger Karlsson1, Michael Kurczy2, Richards Grzhibovskis3, Kelly L Adams14, Andrew G Ewing1, Ann-Sofie Cans2 and Marina V Voinova5*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Chemistry, University of Gothenburg, Kemivägen 10, 41296 Gothenburg, Sweden

2 Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Chalmers University of Technology, 41296 Gothenburg, Sweden

3 Applied Mathematics, University of Saarland, 66121 Saarbrücken, Germany

4 Department of Chemistry, Penn State University, 104 Chemistry Building, University Park, PA 16802, USA

5 BioNano Systems Laboratory, Institute for Microtechnology and Nanoscience, Chalmers University of Technology, 41296 Gothenburg, Sweden

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Nanoscale Research Letters 2011, 6:421  doi:10.1186/1556-276X-6-421

Published: 14 June 2011


In this study we report a physical analysis of the membrane mechanics affecting the size of the highly curved region of a lipid nanotube (LNT) that is either connected between a lipid bilayer vesicle and the tip of a glass microinjection pipette (tube-only) or between a lipid bilayer vesicle and a vesicle that is attached to the tip of a glass microinjection pipette (two-vesicle). For the tube-only configuration (TOC), a micropipette is used to pull a LNT into the interior of a surface-immobilized vesicle, where the length of the tube L is determined by the distance of the micropipette to the vesicle wall. For the two-vesicle configuration (TVC), a small vesicle is inflated at the tip of the micropipette tip and the length of the tube L is in this case determined by the distance between the two interconnected vesicles. An electrochemical method monitoring diffusion of electroactive molecules through the nanotube has been used to determine the radius of the nanotube R as a function of nanotube length L for the two configurations. The data show that the LNT connected in the TVC constricts to a smaller radius in comparison to the tube-only mode and that tube radius shrinks at shorter tube lengths. To explain these electrochemical data, we developed a theoretical model taking into account the free energy of the membrane regions of the vesicles, the LNT and the high curvature junctions. In particular, this model allows us to estimate the surface tension coefficients from R(L) measurements.