The protein machinery controlling membrane fusion (or fission) has been well studied; however, the role of vesicle diffusion near membranes in these critical processes remains unclear. We experimentally and theoretically investigated the dynamics of small vesicles (∼50 nm in diameter) that are diffusing near supported planar bilayers acting as "target" membranes. Using total internal reflection-fluorescence correlation spectroscopy, we examined the validity of theoretical analyses of vesicle-membrane interactions. Vesicles were hindered by hydrodynamic drag as a function of their proximity to the planar bilayer. The population distributions and diffusion kinetics of the vesicles were further affected by changing the ionic strength and pH of the buffer, as well as the lipid composition of the planar membrane. Effective surface charges on neutral bilayers were also analyzed by comparing experimental and theoretical data, and we show the possibility that vesicle dynamics can be modified by surface charge redistribution of the planar bilayer. Based on these results, we hypothesize that the dynamics of small vesicles, diffusing close to biomembranes, may be spatially restricted by altering local physiological conditions (e.g., salt concentration, lipid composition, and pH), which may represent an additional mechanism for controlling fusion (or fission) dynamics. © 2008 by the Biophysical Society.
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