Quantifying the Electrostatics of Polycation-Lipid Bilayer Interactions

Julianne M. Troiano, Alicia C. McGeachy, Laura L. Olenick, Dong Fang, Dongyue Liang, Jiewei Hong, Thomas R. Kuech, Emily R. Caudill, Joel A. Pedersen, Qiang Cui, Franz M. Geiger*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Mechanistic insight into how polycations disrupt and cross cell membranes is needed for understanding and controlling polycation-membrane interactions, yet such information is surprisingly difficult to obtain at the molecular level. We use second harmonic and vibrational sum frequency generation spectroscopies along with quartz crystal microbalance with dissipation monitoring and computer simulations to quantify the interaction of poly(allylamine) hydrochloride (PAH) and its monomeric precursor allylamine hydrochloride (AH) with lipid bilayers. We find PAH adsorption to be reversible and nondisruptive to the bilayer under the conditions of our experiments. With an observed free adsorption energy of -52.7 ± 0.6 kJ/mol, PAH adsorption was found to be surprisingly less favorable relative to AH (-14.6 ± 0.4 kJ/mol) when considering a simple additive model. By experimentally quantifying the number of adsorbates and the average amount of charge carried by each adsorbate, we find that the PAH is associated with only 70% of the positive charges it could hold while the AH remains mostly charged while attached to the membrane. Simulations indicate that PAH pulls in condensed counterions from solution to avoid charge-repulsion along its backbone and with other PAH molecules to attach to, and completely cover, the bilayer surface. In addition, computations indicate that the amine groups shift their pKa values due to the confined environment upon adsorption to the surface. Our results provide experimental constraints for theoretical calculations, which yield atomistic views of the structures that are formed when polycations interact with lipid membranes that will be important for predicting polycation-membrane interactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5808-5816
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the American Chemical Society
Issue number16
StatePublished - Apr 26 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Catalysis
  • Chemistry(all)
  • Biochemistry
  • Colloid and Surface Chemistry


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