Retinoid chromophores as probes of membrane lipid order
Journal article, 2007
There is a great need for development of independent methods to study the structure and function of membrane-associated proteins and peptides. Polarized light spectroscopy (linear dichroism, LD) using shear-aligned lipid vesicles as model membranes has emerged as a promising tool for the characterization of the binding geometry of membrane-bound biomolecules. Here we explore the potential of retinoic acid, retinol, and retinal to function as probes of the macroscopic alignment of shear-deformed 100 nm liposomes. The retinoids display negative LD, proving their preferred alignment perpendicular to the membrane surface. The magnitude of the LD indicates the order retinoic acid > retinol > retinal regarding the degree of orientation in all tested lipid vesicle types. It is concluded that mainly nonspecific electrostatic interactions govern the apparent orientation of the retinoids within the bilayer. We propose a simple model for how the effective orientation may be related to the polarity of the end groups of the retinoid probes, their insertion depths, and their angular distribution of configurations around the membrane normal. Further, we provide evidence that the retinoids can sense subtle structural differences due to variations in membrane composition and we explore the pH sensitivity of retinoic acid, which manifests in variations in absorption maximum wavelength in membranes of varying surface charge. Based on LD measurements on cholesterol-containing liposomes, the influence of membrane constituents on bending rigidity and vesicle deformation is considered in relation to the macroscopic alignment, as well as to lipid chain order on the microscopic scale.