Aggregation of phospholipid vesicles by water-soluble polymers

D. Meyuhas, S. Nir, D. Lichtenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Water soluble polymers such as dextran and polyethylene glycol are known to induce aggregation and size growth of phospholipid vesicles. The present study addresses the dependence of these processes on vesicle size and concentration, polymer molecular weight, temperature, and compartmentalization of the vesicles and polymers, using static and dynamic light scattering. Increasing the molecular weight of the polymers resulted in a reduction of the concentration of polymer needed for induction of aggregation of small unilamellar vesicles. The aggregation was fully reversible (by dilution), within a few seconds, up to a polymer concentration of at least 20 wt %. At relatively low phosphatidylcholine (PC) concentrations (up to -1 mM), increasing the PC concentration resulted in faster kinetics of aggregation and reduced the threshold concentration of polymer required for rapid aggregation (C(A)). At higher PC concentrations, C(A) was only slightly dependent on the concentration of PC and was approximately equal to the overlapping concentration of the polymer (C*). The extent of aggregation was similar at 37 and 4°C. Aggregation of large unilamellar vesicles required a lower polymer concentration, probably because aggregation occurs in a secondary minimum (without surface contact). In contrast to experiments in which the polymers were added directly to the vesicles, dialysis of the vesicles against polymer-containing solutions did not induce aggregation. Based on this result, it appears that exclusion of polymer from the hydration sphere of vesicles and the consequent depletion of polymer molecules from clusters of aggregated vesicles play the central role in the induction of reversible vesicle aggregation. The results of all the other experiments are consistent with this conclusion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2602-2612
Number of pages11
JournalBiophysical Journal
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 1996


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