To understand and maximize the therapeutic potential of poly(styrene-co-maleic acid) (SMA), a synthetic, pharmacologically-active co-polymer, its effect on conformation, phase behavior and stability of lipid matrix models of cell membranes were investigated. The modes of interaction between SMA and lipid molecules were also studied. While, attenuated total reflection-Fourier-transform infrared (ATR-FTIR) and static (31)P nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) experiments detected SMA-induced conformational changes in the headgroup region, differential scanning calorimetry (DSC) studies revealed thermotropic phase behavior changes of the membranes. (1)H NMR results indicated weak immobilization of SMA within the bilayers. Molecular interpretation of the results indicated the role of hydrogen-bond formation and hydrophobic forces between SMA and zwitterionic phospholipid bilayers. The extent of membrane fluidization and generation of isotropic phases were affected by the surface charge of the liposomes, and hence suggested the role of electrostatic interactions between SMA and charged lipid headgroups. SMA was thus found to directly affect the structural integrity of model membranes.
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