Dynamic response of model lipid membranes to ultrasonic radiation force

PLoS One. 2013 Oct 23;8(10):e77115. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0077115. eCollection 2013.


Low-intensity ultrasound can modulate action potential firing in neurons in vitro and in vivo. It has been suggested that this effect is mediated by mechanical interactions of ultrasound with neural cell membranes. We investigated whether these proposed interactions could be reproduced for further study in a synthetic lipid bilayer system. We measured the response of protein-free model membranes to low-intensity ultrasound using electrophysiology and laser Doppler vibrometry. We find that ultrasonic radiation force causes oscillation and displacement of lipid membranes, resulting in small (<1%) changes in membrane area and capacitance. Under voltage-clamp, the changes in capacitance manifest as capacitive currents with an exponentially decaying sinusoidal time course. The membrane oscillation can be modeled as a fluid dynamic response to a step change in pressure caused by ultrasonic radiation force, which disrupts the balance of forces between bilayer tension and hydrostatic pressure. We also investigated the origin of the radiation force acting on the bilayer. Part of the radiation force results from the reflection of the ultrasound from the solution/air interface above the bilayer (an effect that is specific to our experimental configuration) but part appears to reflect a direct interaction of ultrasound with the bilayer, related to either acoustic streaming or scattering of sound by the bilayer. Based on these results, we conclude that synthetic lipid bilayers can be used to study the effects of ultrasound on cell membranes and membrane proteins.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Electric Capacitance
  • Hydrodynamics
  • Lipid Bilayers / radiation effects*
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques
  • Ultrasonography*


  • Lipid Bilayers