Letter | Published:

Glycans pattern the phase behaviour of lipid membranes

Nature Materials volume 12, pages 128133 (2013) | Download Citation

Abstract

Hydrated networks of glycans (polysaccharides)—in the form of cell walls, periplasms or gel-like matrices—are ubiquitously present adjacent to cellular plasma membranes1,2,3,4. Yet, despite their abundance, the function of glycans in the extracellular milieu is largely unknown5. Here we show that the spatial configuration of glycans controls the phase behaviour of multiphase model lipid membranes: inhomogeneous glycan networks stabilize large lipid domains at the characteristic length scale of the network, whereas homogeneous networks suppress macroscopic lipid phase separation. We also find that glycan-patterned phase separation is thermally reversible—thus indicating that the effect is thermodynamic rather than kinetic—and that phase patterning probably results from a preferential interaction of glycans with ordered lipid phases. These findings have implications for membrane-mediated transport processes6,7,8, potentially rationalize long-standing observations that differentiate the behaviour of native and model membranes9,10,11,12,13 and may indicate an intimate coupling between cellular lipidomes and glycomes.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the Harvard MRSEC (DMR-0820484), Harvard Center for Brain Science Imaging Facility, the Harvard Center for Nanoscale Systems, and Princeton University for partial support of this research. We also thank S. Lecuyer and M. Staykova for comments on the manuscript.

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Author notes

    • Anand Bala Subramaniam

    Present address: Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA

Affiliations

  1. School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA

    • Anand Bala Subramaniam
    •  & Vinothan N. Manoharan
  2. Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA

    • Guido Guidotti
  3. Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey 08544, USA

    • Howard A. Stone

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Contributions

A.B.S. made the initial observation of the effects of glycans on supported lipid membranes. H.A.S. and A.B.S. initiated research. A.B.S. designed and performed experiments and analysed data. A.B.S., G.G., V.N.M. and H.A.S. interpreted data and wrote the paper.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Anand Bala Subramaniam or Howard A. Stone.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nmat3492

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