The effects of a nonionic surfactant, octaethyleneglycol mono n-dodecyl ether (C12E8), on the electroporation of planar bilayer lipid membranes made of the synthetic lipid 1-pamitoyl 2-oleoyl phosphatidylcholine (POPC), was studied. High-amplitude (~100-450 mV) rectangular voltage pulses were used to electroporate the bilayers, followed by a prolonged, low-amplitude (~65 mV) voltage clamp to monitor the ensuing changes in transmembrane conductance. The electroporation thresholds of the membranes were found for rectangular voltage pulses of given durations. The strength-duration relationship was determined over a range from 10 μs to 10 s. The addition of C12E8 at concentrations of 0.1, 1, and 10 μM to the bath surrounding the membranes decreased the electroporation threshold monotonically with concentration for all durations (p < 0.0001). The decrease from control values ranged from 10% to 40%, depending on surfactant concentration and pulse duration. For a 10-μs pulse, the transmembrane conductance 150 μs after electroporation (G150) increased monotonically with the surfactant concentration (p = 0.007 for 10 μM C12E8). These findings suggest that C12E8 incorporates into POPC bilayers, allowing electroporation at lower intensities and/or shorter durations, and demonstrate that surfactants can be used to manipulate the electroporation threshold of lipid bilayers.
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