Charge-Mediated Localization of Conjugated Polythiophenes in Zwitterionic Model Cell Membranes.

25 Apr 2018

The selective engineering of conjugated polyelectrolyte (CPE)-phospholipid interfaces is poised to play a key role in the design of advanced biomedical and biotechnological devices. Herein, we report a strategic study to investigate the relationship between the charge of the CPE side group and their association with zwitterionic phospholipid bilayers. The interaction of dipalmitoylphosphatidylcholine (DPPC) phospholipid vesicles with a series of poly(thiophene)s bearing zwitterionic, cationic, or anionic terminal groups (P3Zwit, P3TMAHT and P3Anionic, respectively) has been probed. Although all CPEs showed an affinity for the zwitterionic vesicles, the calculated partition coefficients determined using photoluminescence spectroscopy suggested preferential incorporation within the lipid bilayer in the order P3Zwit > P3Anionic ≫ P3TMAHT. The polarity probe Prodan was used to further qualify the position of the CPE inside the vesicle bilayers via Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET) studies. The varying proximity of the CPEs to Prodan was reflected in the Stern-Volmer quenching constants and decreased in the order P3Anionic > P3TMAHT ≫ P3Zwit. Dynamic light scattering measurements showed an increase in the hydrodynamic diameter of the DPPC vesicles upon addition of each poly(thiophene), but to the greatest extent for P3Anionic. Small-angle neutron scattering studies also revealed that P3Anionic specifically increased the thickness of the headgroup region of the phospholipid bilayer. Epifluorescence and atomic force microscopy imaging showed that P3TMAHT formed amorphous agglomerates on the vesicle surface, P3Zwit was buried throughout the bilayer, and P3Anionic formed a shell of protruding chains around the surface, which promoted vesicle fusion. The global data indicate three distinctive modes of interaction for the poly(thiophene)s within DPPC vesicles, whereby the nature of the association is ultimately controlled by the pendant charge group on each CPE chain. Our results suggest that charge-mediated self-assembly may provide a simple and effective route to design luminescent CPE probes capable of specific localization within phospholipid membranes.