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Self-assembling phospholipid filaments


AQUEOUS dispersions of double-chain phospholipids spontaneously assemble into closed bilayers called vesicles (or liposomes). Although the vesicles are in general topologically spherical, cylindrical1 and helical2 liposomes have sometimes been observed. We present here video-enhanced microscopic studies of a diacetylenic phospholipid dispersed in ethanol/water, which reveal the existence of unusual bilayer morphologies. On cooling the dispersion from the isotropic phase, we have observed the formation of long (of the order of hundreds of micrometres), thin (0.2-2 μm) filaments, which fluctuate strongly. When the tem penature is decreased further, the filaments rapidly retract into a mass of lipid. At constant temperature, on the other hand, the filaments transform into torus or ring-like vesicles. Such non-spherical structures have been predicted theoretically3,4 but not previously observed experimentally.

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Rudolph, A., Ratna, B. & Kahn, B. Self-assembling phospholipid filaments. Nature 352, 52–55 (1991).

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