The interactive properties of liposomes containing phospholipids with covalently attached poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG-lipids) are of interest because such liposomes are being developed as drug delivery vehicles and also are ideal model systems for measuring the properties of surface-grafted polymers. For bilayers containing PEG-lipids with PEG molecular weights of 350, 750, 2000, and 5000, pressure-distance relations have been measured by X-ray diffraction analysis of liposomes subjected to known applied osmotic pressures. The distance between apposing bilayers decreased monotonically with increasing applied pressure for each concentration of a given PEG-lipid. Although for bilayers containing PEG-350 and PEG-750 the contribution of electrostatic repulsion to interbilayer interactions was significant, for bilayers containing PEG-2000 and PEG-5000 the major repulsive pressure between bilayers was a steric pressure due to the attached PEG. The range and magnitude of this steric pressure increased both with increasing PEG-lipid concentration and PEG size, and the extension length of the PEG from the bilayer surface at maximum PEG-lipid concentration depended strongly on the size of the PEG, being less than 35 A for PEG-750, and about 65 A for PEG-2000 and 115 A for PEG-5000. The measured pressure-distance relations have been modeled in terms of current theories (deGennes, 1987; Milner et al., 1988b) for the steric pressure produced by surface-grafted polymers, as modified by us to take into account the effects of polymer polydispersity and the possibility that, at low grafting densities, polymers from apposing bilayers surfaces can interpenetrate or interdigitate. No one theoretical scheme is sufficient to account for all the experimental results. However, for a given pressure regime, PEG-lipid size, and PEG-lipid surface density, the appropriately modified theoretical treatment gives a reasonable fit to the pressure-distance data.
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