From polymer chemistry to structural biology: The development of SMA and related amphipathic polymers for membrane protein extraction and solubilisation

Chem Phys Lipids. 2019 Jul;221:167-175. doi: 10.1016/j.chemphyslip.2019.03.008. Epub 2019 Mar 30.


Nanoparticles assembled with poly(styrene-maleic acid) copolymers, identified in the literature as Lipodisq, SMALPs or Native Nanodisc, are routinely used as membrane mimetics to stabilise protein structures in their native conformation. To date, transmembrane proteins of varying complexity (up to 8 beta strands or 48 alpha helices) and of a range of molecular weights (from 27 kDa up to 500 kDa) have been incorporated into this particle system for structural and functional studies. SMA and related amphipathic polymers have become versatile components of the biochemist's tool kit for the stabilisation, extraction and structural characterization of membrane proteins by techniques including cryo-EM and X-ray crystallography. Lipodisq formation does not require the use of conventional detergents and thus avoids their associated detrimental consequences. Here the development of this technology, from its fundamental concept and design to the diverse range of experimental methodologies to which it can now be applied, will be reviewed.

Keywords: Amphipathic polymers; DIBMA; Discoidal lipid nanoparticles; Drug delivery; Hypercoiling amphipathic polymers; Lipid nanoparticles; Lipodisq; Membrane protein; Nanodiscs; Native nanodiscs; Polymer chemistry; Polymer labelling; SMA lipid nanoparticles; SMA poylmer; SMALP; Structural biology.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Maleic Anhydrides / chemistry*
  • Membrane Proteins / chemistry*
  • Membrane Proteins / isolation & purification*
  • Molecular Structure
  • Polymers / chemistry*
  • Solubility
  • Styrene / chemistry*
  • Surface-Active Agents / chemistry*


  • Maleic Anhydrides
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Polymers
  • Surface-Active Agents
  • Styrene