Faculty Advisor

Jianyu Liang

Faculty Advisor

Amy M Peterson

Faculty Advisor

Terri A Camesano

Faculty Advisor

Ramanathan Nagarajan




Supported lipid bilayers (SLBs) are one of the most common model membranes used in the field of cell membrane biology as they provide a well-defined model membrane platform for determination of molecular-level interactions between different biomolecules (e.g. proteins, peptides) and lipid membrane. Compared to model organisms, the use of SLB is preferable since it mimics cell plasma membrane in a very simple and well-controlled way. Therefore, molecular structure of membrane and experimental conditions (e.g. solution chemistry, temperature, and pH) can be easily adjusted to the required conditions of any systematic research. In addition, SLBs are typically easy to form, cheap and very reproducible and they are compatible with different surface characterization techniques, such as quartz crystal microbalance with dissipation (QCM-D), ellipsometry and atomic force microscopy (AFM). This study demonstrates that QCM-D analysis of SLBs serve as powerful tool to investigate and characterize the mechanisms of interactions between lipid membrane and gold nanoparticles (NPs), environmentally relevant polymers, and disease-inducing peptides. Due to many critical applications of gold NPs in drug delivery and diagnostics, understanding of membrane-NP interactions is crucial especially for determination of NPs cytotoxicity. In this study we focus on membrane disruption as one of the different mechanisms by which metal NPs induce cytotoxicity. The use of SLB is beneficial for this goal as it elucidates the unique mechanism of membrane disruption without interference of other mechanisms taking place simultaneously in biological cells. For NP-membrane interaction studies, a SLB composed of L-α-phosphatidylcholine (egg PC) was formed on a SiO2-coated crystal and QCM-D analysis was performed to obtain information about mass and viscoelastic changes of SLB resulting from interactions with gold NPs. For better understanding of the mechanisms of NP-membrane interactions, we systematically changed the NPs properties and the experimental conditions. In order to understand the effect of NP size, gold NPs with diameters of 2,5,10, and 40 nm were tested and compared to each other. NPs were tested in their citric acid-stabilized state as well as in the presence of poly (methacrylic acid) (PMAA), representing an organic coating that could become associated with NPs in the environment. The results indicated that when dissolved in water, gold NPs with the dimeters of 2, 5, 10, and 40 nm did not perturb the membrane, but in the presence of environmentally relevant polymer, the larger nanoparticles were found to disrupt the membrane. In order to elucidate the effect of surface chemistry, 10 nm - gold NPs with various functionalizations (i.e. anionic, cationic and non-ionic ligands) were tested. Control experiments were designed to test the effect of NPs in the absence of humic substances which means the NPs were dissolved in water. In these cases, regardless of the type of NP functionalization, no substantial bilayer mass changes were observed. This suggests that the charge and chemistry of the ligands had a minor effect on NP-membrane interactions. Furthermore, in both the control and humic acid experiments, there were small dissipation changes (less than 1 unit) indicating that the overall membrane structure was not perturbed. In order to mimic environmentally-relevant conditions, mass and viscoelasticity of SLB was characterized in the presence of four different natural polymers, also known as natural organic materials (NOMs): Fulvic and humic acids extracted from Suwannee River (SRFA and SRHA), which had relatively lower molecular weights and a commercial humic acid (HA) and the humic acid extracted from Elliott soil (ESHA) with higher molecular weight. The results showed that NOMs with lower molecular weights, adsorbed to the bilayer, while higher molecular weight components, did not induce any changes to the bilayers. In addition, the NPs in SRFA and SRHA increased the mass of the bilayer by 20-30 ng, while the NPs in HA and ESHA changed the mass of the bilayer by < 10 ng. It was concluded that the presence of humic substances as well as their physical and chemical properties exert a direct impact on the interactions between cell membrane and the nanoparticles. In addition to the field of NP toxicity, SLBs play a pivotal role in the field of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD), in which the pathological cascade of events starts from interactions of a misfolded peptide with cell membrane. In this thesis, we confirm the validity of QCM-D analysis of SLB as an important platform for investigation of amyloid β (the peptide associated with AD) interactions with lipid membrane. Adsorption of Aβ peptide to cell membrane is known to take place on the so-called “lipid raftâ€� which are membrane microdomains enriched with cholesterol, sphingomyelin and ganglioside. The formation of SLBs containing lipid rafts is not only important for the field of AD research, but also it is important for other in vitro studies of cell biology as the lipid rafts are responsible for a variety of biological functions such as association of some membrane proteins and cellular signaling. However, the presence of lipid raft components such as sphingomyelin and cholesterol makes the formation of the bilayer more challenging which leads to adsorption of intact vesicles on the substrate without formation of the bilayer. In this study, the formation of lipid bilayer composed of 1,2-Dioleoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine (DOPC), 1,2-dioleoyl- sn-glycero-3-phospho-L-serine (DOPS), cholesterol (Chol), sphingomyelin (SM), and ganglioside (GM) was investigated using QCM-D. A challenge was that the raft-containing vesicles remained intact on the SiO2 crystal. Therefore, different experimental conditions were tested to induce vesicle fusion, such as pH, temperature, osmotic pressure, and vesicle size. The key parameter in forming the bilayer was found to be applying osmotic pressure to the vesicles by having the vesicles exterior concentration of NaCl higher than interior concentration. When this concentration gradient was applied to the vesicles before flowing them on the substrate, vesicle rupture was favored and formation of a complete bilayer could occur. Here, we report the effects of each tested variable on the adsorption and fusion of the raft-containing vesicles, and the results are discussed based on the mechanisms of vesicle-vesicle and vesicle-substrate interactions.After developing the robust method for formation of SLB with lipid rafts, we used that as a template to characterize the mechanism of interactions between Aβ peptide and cell membrane which leads to onset of AD. The mechanism of Aβ toxicity leading to AD has not fully discovered yet, due to the complexity of the process including several steps of Aβ peptide adsorption on membrane, conformational change from disordered in solution to a membrane-bound α-helix structure and then formation of β-sheet aggregates that serve as fibrillation seeds. In this study, we showed that QCM-D technique as a promising tool to conduct systematic studies on the mechanism of interactions between Aβ peptide with lipid membrane. To our knowledge, this was the first time QCM-D was utilized for characterization of Aβ fibrillation starting from monomer states until formation of mature fibrils. The data indicated that peptide-membrane interactions follow a two-step kinetic pathway starting with the adsorption of small (low-n) oligomers until covering all the adsorption sites on the surface. In the second step, the membrane structure is destabilized as the result of interaction with oligomers which leads to lipid loss from the surface. Consistency of the results with the data obtained via other techniques substantiates QCM-D technique as a robust approach to answer the remaining unanswered questions in the field of Alzheimer’s disease.


Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Degree Name



Chemical Engineering

Project Type


Date Accepted





Amyloid peptide, Nanoparticles, Natural organic matter, Supported lipid bilayer