Fusion of biomimetic stealth probes into lipid bilayer cores

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Mar 30;107(13):5815-20. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0909250107. Epub 2010 Mar 8.


Many biomaterials are designed to regulate the interactions between artificial and natural surfaces. However, when materials are inserted through the cell membrane itself the interface formed between the interior edge of the membrane and the material surface is not well understood and poorly controlled. Here we demonstrate that by replicating the nanometer-scale hydrophilic-hydrophobic-hydrophilic architecture of transmembrane proteins, artificial "stealth" probes spontaneously insert and anchor within the lipid bilayer core, forming a high-strength interface. These nanometer-scale hydrophobic bands are readily fabricated on metallic probes by functionalizing the exposed sidewall of an ultrathin evaporated Au metal layer rather than by lithography. Penetration and adhesion forces for butanethiol and dodecanethiol functionalized probes were directly measured using atomic force microscopy (AFM) on thick stacks of lipid bilayers to eliminate substrate effects. The penetration dynamics were starkly different for hydrophobic versus hydrophilic probes. Both 5- and 10 nm thick hydrophobically functionalized probes naturally resided within the lipid core, while hydrophilic probes remained in the aqueous region. Surprisingly, the barrier to probe penetration with short butanethiol chains (E(o,5 nm) = 21.8k(b)T, E(o,10 nm) = 15.3k(b)T) was dramatically higher than longer dodecanethiol chains (E(o,5 nm) = 14.0k(b)T, E(o,10 nm) = 10.9k(b)T), indicating that molecular mobility and orientation also play a role in addition to hydrophobicity in determining interface stability. These results highlight a new strategy for designing artificial cell interfaces that can nondestructively penetrate the lipid bilayer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adhesiveness
  • Biomimetic Materials / chemistry*
  • Biophysical Phenomena
  • Hydrophobic and Hydrophilic Interactions
  • Lipid Bilayers / chemistry*
  • Materials Testing
  • Microscopy, Atomic Force / instrumentation
  • Models, Molecular


  • Lipid Bilayers