Date of Award

January 2015

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Martin B. Forstner

Second Advisor

Rebecca Bader


Calcium, bivalent ions, modulation, Compressibility, Excess Gibbs free energy, Langmuir Blodgett, monolayer, biomimetic, Phosphoinositol 4,5 bisphosphate

Subject Categories

Physical Sciences and Mathematics


The biological membrane of an eukaryotic cell is a two-dimensional structure of mostly phospholipids with embedded proteins. This two-dimensional structure plays many key roles in the life of a cell. Transmembrane proteins, for example, play the role of a gate for different ions (such as Ca2+). Also found are peripheral proteins that are used as enzymes for different purposes in the inner leaflet of the plasma membrane. Phospholipids, in particular play three key roles. Firstly, some members of this group are used to store energy. Secondly, the hydrophobic and hydrophilic properties inherent to phospholipids enable them to be used as building blocks of the cell membrane by forming an asymmetric bilayer. This provides a shielding protection against the outer environment while at the same time keeping the organelles and cytosol from leaking out of the cell. Finally lipids are involved in regulating the aggregation of proteins in the membrane. In addition, some subspecies such as phosphatidylinositol (PtdIns) are second messenger molecules in their own right, thus playing an important role in cellular signaling events. In my work presented in this thesis, I am focusing on the role of some phospholipids as signaling molecules and in particular the physicochemical underpinnings that could be used in their spatiotemporal organization in the cellular plasma membrane. I am specifically concerned with the important family of phosphatidylinositol lipids. PtdIns are very well known for their role as signaling molecules in numerous cell events. They are located in the inner leaflet of the plasma membrane as well as part of the membrane of other organelles. Studies of these signaling molecules in their in vivo environment present many challenges: Firstly, the complexity of interactions due to the numerous entities present in eukaryotic cell membranes makes it difficult to establish clear cause and effect relationships. Secondly, due to their size, our inability to probe these biomolecules in a dynamic environment and the lack of appropriate physical and biochemical tools. In contrast, biomimetic membrane models that rely on the amphiphilic properties of phospholipids are powerful tools that enable the study of these molecules in vitro. By having control over the different experimental parameters such as temperature and pH, reliable and repeatable experimental conditions can be created.

One of the key questions I investigated in this thesis is related to the clustering mechanism of PtdIns(4, 5)P2 into pools or aggregates that enable independent cellular control of this species by geometric separation. The lateral aggregation of PtdIns(4, 5)P2 and its underlying physical causes is still a matter of debate. In the first part of this thesis I introduce the general information on lipid membranes with a special focus on the PtdIns family and their associated signaling events. In addition, I explain the Langmuir-Blodgett film balance (LB) system as tool to study lipid membranes and lipid interactions. In the second chapter, I describe my work on the lateral compressibility of PtdIns(4, 5)P2, PtdIns and DOPG monolayers and its modulation by bivalent ions using Langmuir monolayers. In addition, a theoretical framework of compressibility that depends on a surface potential induced by a planar layer of charged molecules and ions in the bulk was provided. In the third part, I present my work on the excess Gibbs free energy of the lipid systems PtdIns(4, 5)P2 -POPC, PtdIns(4, 5)P2, and POPC as they are modulated by bivalent ions. In the fourth part, I report on my foray in engineering a light-based system that relies on different dye properties to simulate calcium induced calcium release (CICR) that occurs in many cell types. In the final chapter, I provide a general conclusion and present directions for future research that would build on my findings.


Open Access