Spatial distribution of lipid headgroups and water molecules at membrane/water interfaces visualized by three-dimensional scanning force microscopy

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At biological interfaces, flexible surface structures and mobile water interact with each other to present non-uniform three-dimensional (3D) distributions. In spite of their impact on biological functions, molecular-scale understanding of such phenomena has remained elusive. Here we show direct visualization of such interfacial structures with subnanometer-scale resolution by 3D scanning force microscopy (3D-SFM). We measured a 3D force distribution at an interface between a model biological membrane and buffer solution by scanning a sharp tip within the 3D interfacial space. We found that vertical cross sections of the 3D image taken along a specific lateral direction show characteristic molecular-scale contrasts tilted at 30° to the membrane surface. Detailed analysis of the 3D image reveals that the tilted contrast corresponds to the time-averaged conformation of fluctuating lipid headgroups. On the basis of the obtained results, we discuss the relationships among the hydration structure, headgroup fluctuation, molecular fluidity, and mechanical strength of the membrane. The results demonstrate that 3D-SFM is capable of visualizing averaged 3D distribution of fluctuating surface structures as well as that of mobile water (i.e., hydration structure) at interfaces between biological systems and water. © 2012 American Chemical Society.


  • ACS Nano

    ACS Nano 6(10), 9013-9020, 2012-10-23

    American Chemical Society


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