Deuterated detergents for structural and functional studies of membrane proteins: Properties, chemical synthesis and applications

Mol Membr Biol. 2015 Aug-Dec;32(5-8):139-55. doi: 10.3109/09687688.2015.1125536. Epub 2016 Feb 24.


Detergents are amphiphilic compounds that have crucial roles in the extraction, purification and stabilization of integral membrane proteins and in experimental studies of their structure and function. One technique that is highly dependent on detergents for solubilization of membrane proteins is solution-state NMR spectroscopy, where detergent micelles often serve as the best membrane mimetic for achieving particle sizes that tumble fast enough to produce high-resolution and high-sensitivity spectra, although not necessarily the best mimetic for a biomembrane. For achieving the best quality NMR spectra, detergents with partial or complete deuteration can be used, which eliminate interfering proton signals coming from the detergent itself and also eliminate potential proton relaxation pathways and strong dipole-dipole interactions that contribute line broadening effects. Deuterated detergents have also been used to solubilize membrane proteins for other experimental techniques including small angle neutron scattering and single-crystal neutron diffraction and for studying membrane proteins immobilized on gold electrodes. This is a review of the properties, chemical synthesis and applications of detergents that are currently commercially available and/or that have been synthesized with partial or complete deuteration. Specifically, the detergents are sodium dodecyl sulphate (SDS), lauryldimethylamine-oxide (LDAO), n-octyl-β-D-glucoside (β-OG), n-dodecyl-β-D-maltoside (DDM) and fos-cholines including dodecylphosphocholine (DPC). The review also considers effects of deuteration, detergent screening and guidelines for detergent selection. Although deuterated detergents are relatively expensive and not always commercially available due to challenges associated with their chemical synthesis, they will continue to play important roles in structural and functional studies of membrane proteins, especially using solution-state NMR.

Keywords: Detergents; NMR; deuteration; membrane proteins; synthesis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Detergents / chemistry*
  • Deuterium / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Membrane Proteins / chemistry*
  • Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, Biomolecular / methods*


  • Detergents
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Deuterium