Light-Controlled Membrane Mechanics and Shape Transitions of Photoswitchable Lipid Vesicles

Carla Pernpeintner, James A. Frank, Patrick Urban, Christian R. Roeske, Stefanie D. Pritzl, Dirk Trauner, Theobald Lohmüller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Giant unilamellar vesicles (GUVs) represent a versatile model system to emulate the fundamental properties and functions associated with the plasma membrane of living cells. Deformability and shape transitions of lipid vesicles are closely linked to the mechanical properties of the bilayer membrane itself and are typically difficult to control under physiological conditions. Here, we developed a protocol to form cell-sized vesicles from an azobenzene-containing phosphatidylcholine (azo-PC), which undergoes photoisomerization on irradiation with UV-A and visible light. Photoswitching within the photolipid vesicles enabled rapid and precise control of the mechanical properties of the membrane. By varying the intensity and dynamics of the optical stimulus, controlled vesicle shape changes such as budding transitions, invagination, pearling, or the formation of membrane tubes were achieved. With this system, we could mimic the morphology changes normally seen in cells, in the absence of any molecular machines associated with the cytoskeleton. Furthermore, we devised a mechanism to utilize photoswitchable lipid membranes for storing mechanical energy and then releasing it on command as locally usable work.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4083-4089
Number of pages7
Issue number16
StatePublished - Apr 25 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Materials Science
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Surfaces and Interfaces
  • Spectroscopy
  • Electrochemistry


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