Characterization of the solubilization of lipid bilayers by surfactants

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This communication addresses the state of aggregation of lipid-detergent mixed dispersions. Analysis of recently published data suggest that for any given detergent-lipid mixture the most important factor in determining the type of aggregates (mixed vesicles or mixed micelles) and the size of the aggregate is the detergent to lipid molar ratio in these aggregates, herein denoted the effective ratio, Re. For mixed bilayers this effective ratio has been previously shown to be a function of the lipid and detergent concentrations and of an equilibrium partition coefficient, K, which describes the distribution of the detergent between the bilayers and the aqueous phase. We show that, similar to mixed bilayers, the size of mixed micelles is also a function of the effective ratio, but for these dispersions the distribution of detergent between the mixed micelles and the aqueous medium obeys a much higher partition coefficient. In practical terms, the detergent concentration in the mixed micelles is equal to the difference between the total detergent concentration and the critical micelle concentration (cmc). Thus, the effective ratio is equal to this difference divided by the lipid concentration. Transformation of mixed bilayers to mixed micelles, commonly denoted solubilization, occurs when the surfactant to lipid effective ratio reaches a critical value. Experimental evaluation of this critical ratio can be based on the linear dependence of detergent concentration, required for solubilization, on the lipid concentration. According to the 'equilibrium partition model', the dependence of the 'solubilizing detergent concentration' on the lipid concentration intersects with the lipid axis at -1/K, while the slope of this dependence is the critical effective ratio. On the other hand, assuming that when solubilization occurs the detergent concentration in the aqueous phase is approximately equal to the critical micelle concentration, implies that the above dependence intersects with the detergent axis at the critical micelle concentration, while its slope, again, is equal to the critical effective ratio. Analysis of existing data suggests that within experimental error both these distinctively different approaches are valid, indicating that the critical effective ratio at which solubilization occurs is approximately equal to the product of the critical micelle concentration and the distribution coefficient K. Since the nature of detergent affects K and the critical micelle concentration in opposite directions, the critical ('solubilizing') effective ratio depends upon the nature of detergent less than any of these two factors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)470-478
Number of pages9
JournalBBA - Biomembranes
Issue number3
StatePublished - 19 Dec 1985


  • Detergent-membrane interaction
  • Lipid bilayer
  • Membrane solubilization


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