Self-Assembly of Protein-Containing Lipid-Bilayer Nanodiscs from Small-Molecule Amphiphiles

Small. 2021 Dec;17(49):e2103603. doi: 10.1002/smll.202103603. Epub 2021 Oct 21.


When membrane proteins are removed from their natural environment, the quality of the membrane-solubilizing agent used is critical for preserving their native structures and functions. Nanodiscs that retain a lipid-bilayer core around membrane proteins have attracted great attention because they offer a much more native-like environment than detergent micelles. Here, two small-molecule amphiphiles with diglucose headgroups and either a hydrocarbon or a fluorocarbon hydrophobic chain are shown to directly assemble lipids and membrane proteins to form native nanodiscs rather than mixed micelles. Self-assembly of nanodiscs of increasing complexity from both defined, artificial vesicles as well as complex, cellular membranes is demonstrated. A detailed investigation of bilayer integrity and membrane-protein activity in these nanodiscs reveals gentle effects on the encapsulated bilayer core. The fluorinated amphiphile appears particularly promising because its lipophobicity results in gentle, non-perturbing interactions with the nanoscale lipid bilayer. A sequential model of nanodisc self-assembly is proposed that proceeds through perforation of the original membrane followed by saturation and complete solubilization of the bilayer. On this basis, pseudophase diagrams are established for mixtures of lipids and nanodisc-forming diglucoside amphiphiles, and the latter are used for the extraction of a broad range of membrane proteins from cellular membranes.

Keywords: fluorinated surfactants; membrane proteins; protein solubilization; self-assembly; small-molecule amphiphiles.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Hydrophobic and Hydrophilic Interactions
  • Lipid Bilayers*
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Micelles
  • Nanostructures*


  • Lipid Bilayers
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Micelles