Interdigitated hydrocarbon chain packing causes the biphasic transition behavior in lipid/alcohol suspensions.
It has been shown recently by Rowe ((1983) Biochemistry 22, 3299-3305) that ethanol has a 'biphasic' effect on the transition temperature (Tm) of phosphatidylcholine bilayers, reducing Tm at low concentrations but increasing Tm at high concentrations. Our X-ray diffraction data show that this reversal of Tm is a consequence of the induction of an unusual gel phase, where the lipid hydrocarbon chains from apposing monolayers fully interpenetrate or interdigitate. The properties of this interdigitated phase also explain the lipid chain length dependence of the reversal in the Tm versus ethanol concentration curves and the narrow width of the transition at high ethanol concentrations, as well as spectroscopic and calorimetric data from lipid suspensions containing other drugs such as methanol, benzyl alcohol, phenyl ethanol, and chlorpromazine.
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