A vesicle-to-sponge transition via the proliferation of membrane-linking pores in ω-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid-containing lipid assemblies


We investigate the nanostructure evolution and the membrane reorganization of diluted lipid dispersions of self-assembled monoolein (MO)/eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, 20:5) mixtures by synchrotron small-angle X-ray scattering (SAXS) and cryogenic transmission electron microscopy (cryo-TEM) microscopy. The nonlamellar lipid phase containing a ω-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid was fragmented into stable nanoscale objects with the help of PEGylated lipids. The Cryo-TEM imaging revealed the transformation pathway of the vesicular bilayer membranes into sponge nanoparticles (spongosomes) in excess aqueous medium. At ambient temperature, the topological transition occurred through the proliferation of membrane-linking pores (MLP) within the individual lipid nanoparticles. The density of the MLP pores varied starting from the nanoparticle center toward the periphery. The generation of MLP is governed by the amphiphilic composition and leads to formation of 3D networks of aqueous channels inside the nanoparticles, i.e. spongosomes. A higher density of MLP pores was established at increasing fraction of EPA in the mixed lipid membranes. This corresponded to sponge particles of less hydrated internal structure, i.e. with smaller-size aqueous compartments. Synchrotron SAXS patterns characterized the overall structural transition from vesicles to sponge membranes in the studied lipid systems. It can be concluded that the incorporation of a ω-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid at increasing concentration causes swelling inhibition (dehydration) of the host liquid crystalline architectures.
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