Occupancy distributions of membrane proteins in heterogeneous liposome populations

Lucy Cliff, Rahul Chadda, Janice L. Robertson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Studies of membrane protein structure and function often rely on reconstituting the protein into lipid bilayers through the formation of liposomes. Many measurements conducted in proteoliposomes, e.g. transport rates, single-molecule dynamics, monomer-oligomer equilibrium, require some understanding of the occupancy statistics of the liposome population for correct interpretation of the results. In homogenous liposomes, this is easy to calculate as the act of protein incorporation can be described by the Poisson distribution. However, in reality, liposomes are heterogeneous, which alters the statistics of occupancy in several ways. Here, we determine the liposome occupancy distribution for membrane protein reconstitution while considering liposome size heterogeneity. We calculate the protein occupancy for a homogenous population of liposomes with radius r = 200 nm, representing an idealization of vesicles extruded through 400 nm pores and compare it to the right-skewed distribution of 400 nm 2:1 POPE:POPG vesicles. As is the case for E. coli polar lipids, this synthetic composition yields a sub-population of small liposomes, 25–30 nm in radius with a long tail of larger vesicles. Previously published microscopy data of the co-localization of the CLC-ec1 Cl/H+ transporter with liposomes, and vesicle occupancy measurements using functional transport assays, shows agreement with the heterogeneous 2:1 POPE:POPG population. Next, distributions of 100 nm and 30 nm extruded 2:1 POPE:POPG liposomes are measured by cryo-electron microscopy, demonstrating that extrusion through smaller pores does not shift the peak, but reduces polydispersity arising from large liposomes. Single-molecule photobleaching analysis of CLC-ec1-Cy5 shows the 30 nm extruded population increases the ‘Poisson-dilution’ range, reducing the probability of vesicles with more than one protein at higher protein/lipid densities. These results demonstrate that the occupancy distributions of membrane proteins into vesicles can be accurately predicted in heterogeneous populations with experimental knowledge of the liposome size distribution. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Molecular biophysics of membranes and membrane proteins.

Original languageEnglish
Article number183033
JournalBiochimica et Biophysica Acta - Biomembranes
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020


  • CLC-ec1
  • Liposome size distribution
  • Membrane protein
  • Poisson
  • Reconstitution
  • Single-molecule photobleaching


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