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Small-Angle Neutron Scattering for Studying Lipid Bilayer Membranes

by William T Heller
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Small-angle neutron scattering (SANS) is a powerful tool for studying biological membranes and model lipid bilayer membranes. The length scales probed by SANS, being from 1 nm to over 100 nm, are well-matched to the relevant length scales of the bilayer, particularly when it is in the form of a vesicle. However, it is the ability of SANS to differentiate between isotopes of hydrogen as well as the availability of deuterium labeled lipids that truly enable SANS to reveal details of membranes that are not accessible with the use of other techniques, such as small-angle X-ray scattering. In this work, an overview of the use of SANS for studying unilamellar lipid bilayer vesicles is presented. The technique is briefly presented, and the power of selective deuteration and contrast variation methods is discussed. Approaches to modeling SANS data from unilamellar lipid bilayer vesicles are presented. Finally, recent examples are discussed. While the emphasis is on studies of unilamellar vesicles, examples of the use of SANS to study intact cells are also presented.