Self-assembled vesicles of monocarboxylic acids and alcohols: Conditions for stability and for the encapsulation of biopolymers

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We tested the ability of saturated n-monocarboxylic acids ranging from eight to 12 carbons in length to self-assemble into vesicles, and determined the minimal concentrations and chain lengths necessary to form stable bilayer membranes. Under defined conditions of pH and concentrations exceeding 150 mM, an unbranched monocarboxylic acid as short as eight carbons in length (n-octanoic acid) assembled into vesicular structures. Nonanoic acid (85 mM) formed stable vesicles at pH 7.0, the pK of the acid in bilayers, and was chosen for further testing. At pH 6 and below, the vesicles were unstable and the acid was present as droplets. At pH ranges of 8 and above clear solutions of micelles formed. However, addition of small amounts of an alcohol (nonanol) markedly stabilized the bilayers, and vesicles were present at significantly lower concentrations (∼ 20 mM) at pH ranges up to 11. The formation of vesicles near the pKa of the acids can be explained by the formation of stable RCOO-...HOOCR hydrogen bond networks in the presence of both ionized and neutral acid functions. Similarly, the effects of alcohols at high pH suggests the formation of stable RCOO-...HOR hydrogen bond networks when neutral RCOOH groups are absent. The vesicles provided a selective permeability barrier, as indicated by osmotic activity and ionic dye capture, and could encapsulate macromolecules such as DNA and a protein. When catalase was encapsulated in vesicles of decanoic acid and decanol, the enzyme was protected from degradation by protease, and could act as a catalyst for its substrate, hydrogen peroxide, which readily diffused across the membrane. We conclude that membranous vesicles produced by mixed short chain monocarboxylic acids and alcohols are useful models for testing the limits of stabilizing hydrophobic effects in membranes and for prebiotic membrane formation. © 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.




Apel, C. L., Deamer, D. W., & Mautner, M. N. (2002). Self-assembled vesicles of monocarboxylic acids and alcohols: Conditions for stability and for the encapsulation of biopolymers. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta - Biomembranes, 1559(1), 1–9.

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