Electric field effect on cholesterol-phospholipid complexes

Arun Radhakrishnan, Harden M. McConnell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Monolayer mixtures of dihydrocholesterol and phospholipids at the air- water interface are used to model membranes containing cholesterol and phospholipids. Specific, stoichiometric interactions between cholesterol and some but not all phospholipids have been proposed to lead to the formation of condensed complexes. It is reported here that an externally applied electric field of the appropriate sign can destabilize these complexes, resulting in their dissociation. This is demonstrated through the application of an electric field gradient that leads to phase separations in otherwise homogeneous monolayers. This is observed only when the monolayer composition is close to the stoichiometry of the complex. The electric field effect is analyzed with the same mean field thermodynamic model as that used previously to account for pairs of upper miscibility critical points in these mixtures. The concentrations of dihydrocholesterol, phospholipid, and complex vary strongly and sometimes discontinuously in the monolayer membrane in the field gradient. The model is an approximation to a two-dimensional liquid in which molecules freely exchange between free and complexed form so that the chemical potentials are constant throughout the membrane. The calculations are illustrated for a complex of about 15 molecules, composed of 5 cholesterol molecules and 10 phospholipid molecules.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1073-1078
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 1 2000


  • Chemical activity
  • Membranes
  • Monolayers
  • Phase separations
  • Sphingomyelin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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