Styrene-and-maleic acid (SMA) copolymers behave as amphipathic belts encircling lipids in the form of nanodiscs. It is unclear to what extent the SMA belt affects the order and dynamics of the enclosed lipids. We aimed to obtain insight into this by making use of synthetic azobenzene-labeled phospholipids incorporated into di-16:0 PC nanodiscs. Azobenzene lipids undergo geometric isomerization upon exposure to light at 365 nm, resulting in the formation of cis-isomers that possess a larger cross-sectional area than the trans-isomers. The influence of the lipid properties on the kinetics and extent of isomerization of the azobenzene groups was first tested in large unilamellar vesicles constituted by lipid mixtures with different packing properties of the acyl chains. Fastest isomerization kinetics were found when azolipids were present in membranes supplemented with lysolipids and slowest in those supplemented with di-unsaturated lipids, suggesting that the isomerization rate is sensitive to the lateral pressure profile in the lipid bilayer and hence may be considered a convenient tool to monitor packing properties of lipids enclosed in nanodiscs. When azolipids were incorporated in SMA-bounded nanodiscs, azolipid isomerization was found to take place readily, indicating that SMA polymers behave as rather flexible belts and allow expansion of the enclosed lipid material.
Keywords: Azobenzene; Isomerization; Lateral pressure; Lipid packing; Nanodisc; SMA.
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