Structural characterization of styrene-maleic acid copolymer-lipid nanoparticles (SMALPs) using EPR spectroscopy

Chem Phys Lipids. 2019 May;220:6-13. doi: 10.1016/j.chemphyslip.2019.02.003. Epub 2019 Feb 20.


Spectroscopic studies of membrane proteins (MPs) are challenging due to difficulties in preparing homogenous and functional lipid membrane mimetic systems into which membrane proteins can properly fold and function. It has recently been shown that styrene-maleic acid (SMA) copolymers act as a macromolecular surfactant and therefore facilitate the formation of disk-shaped lipid bilayer nanoparticles (styrene-maleic acid copolymer-lipid nanoparticles (SMALPs)) that retain structural characteristics of native lipid membranes. We have previously reported controlled synthesis of SMA block copolymers using reversible addition-fragmentation chain transfer (RAFT) polymerization, and that alteration of the weight ratio of styrene to maleic acid affects nanoparticle size. RAFT-synthesis offers superior control over SMA polymer architecture compared to conventional radical polymerization techniques used for commercially available SMA. However, the interactions between the lipid bilayer and the solubilized RAFT-synthesized SMA polymer are currently not fully understood. In this study, EPR spectroscopy was used to detect the perturbation on the acyl chain upon introduction of the RAFT-synthesized SMA polymer by attaching PC-based nitroxide spin labels to the 5th, 12th, and 16th positions along the acyl chain of the lipid bilayer. EPR spectra showed high rigidity at the 12th position compared to the other two regions, displaying similar qualities to commercially available polymers synthesized via conventional methods. In addition, central EPR linewidths and correlation time data were obtained that are consistent with previous findings.

Keywords: CW-EPR; Electron paramagnetic resonance; Lipid bilayer; POPC vesicles; SMALPs; Styrene-maleic acid copolymers.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Electron Spin Resonance Spectroscopy
  • Hydrolysis
  • Lipids / chemistry*
  • Maleates / chemical synthesis
  • Maleates / chemistry*
  • Molecular Structure
  • Nanoparticles / chemistry*
  • Particle Size
  • Polystyrenes / chemical synthesis
  • Polystyrenes / chemistry*


  • Lipids
  • Maleates
  • Polystyrenes
  • styrene-maleic acid polymer