Most membrane-solubilising amphiphilic copolymers such as diisobutylene/maleic acid (DIBMA) and styrene/maleic acid (SMA) carry high negative charge densities. Their polyanionic character results in strong Coulombic repulsion, both between polymer chains and lipid membranes during the solubilisation process as well as among polymer-encapsulated nanodiscs after solubilisation. Coulombic repulsion is attenuated by charge screening and, more efficiently, by counterion association, which is particularly strong for multivalent cations binding to polyanionic copolymers. Here, we investigated the effects of the two common alkaline earth metal ions Mg2+ and Ca2+ on the solubilisation properties of and the nanodiscs formed by DIBMA. By quantifying the kinetics and the equilibrium efficiency of lipid solubilisation by static and dynamic light scattering, respectively, we found that millimolar concentrations of Mg2+ or Ca2+ accelerated DIBMA-mediated lipid solubilisation several-fold and resulted in considerably smaller nanodiscs than without divalent cations. Time-resolved Förster resonance energy transfer spectroscopy revealed that collisional transfer of phospholipids among nanodiscs was up to ∼20 and ∼25 times faster in the presence of 10 mM Mg2+ or 7.5 mM Ca2+ than in the absence of divalent cations. These major effects of Mg2+ and Ca2+ contrasted with a moderate influence on the morphology and the thermotropic phase behaviour of the nanodiscs. Finally, we compared the yields of membrane-protein extraction from Escherichia coli membranes, which increased by up to two-fold upon addition of Mg2+ or Ca2+. None of these effects could be explained by Coulombic screening alone, as the change in ionic strength resulting from low millimolar concentrations of divalent cations was minor. Thus, we conclude that Mg2+ and Ca2+ specifically associated with DIBMA to neutralise part of the polymer's carboxylate groups.
Keywords: Coulombic repulsion; Divalent cations; Lipid exchange; Membrane solubilization; Polymer nanodiscs.
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