Structural Evolution of Environmentally Responsive Cationic Liposome-DNA Complexes with a Reducible Lipid Linker
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Environmentally responsive materials (i.e., materials that respond to changes in their environment with a change in their properties or structure) are attracting increasing amounts of interest. We recently designed and synthesized a series of cleavable multivalent lipids (CMVLn, with n = 2-5 being the number of positive headgroup charges at full protonation) with a disulfide bond in the linker between their cationic headgroup and hydrophobic tails. The self-assembled complexes of the CMVLs and DNA are a prototypical environmentally responsive material, undergoing extensive structural rearrangement when exposed to reducing agents. We investigated the structural evolution of CMVL-DNA complexes at varied complex composition, temperature, and incubation time using small-angle X-ray scattering (SAXS) and wide-angle X-ray scattering (WAXS). A related lipid with a stable linker, TMVL4, was used as a control. In a nonreducing environment, CMVL-DNA complexes form the lamellar (L-alpha(C)) phase, with DNA rods sandwiched between lipid bilayers. However, new self-assembled phases form when the disulfide linker is cleaved by dithiothreitol or the biologically relevant reducing agent glutathione. The released DNA and cleaved CMVL headgroups form a loosely organized phase, giving rise to a characteristic broad SAXS correlation profile. CMVLs with high headgroup charge also form condensed DNA bundles. Intriguingly, the cleaved hydrophobic tails of the CMVLs reassemble into tilted chain-ordered L-beta, phases upon incubation at physiological temperature (37 C), as indicated by characteristic WAXS peaks. X-ray scattering further reveals that two of the three phases (L-beta F, L-beta L, and L-beta 1) constituting the L-beta. phase coexist in these samples. The described system may have applications in lipid-based nanotechnologies.