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A new method is described that combines a microfluidic device for the controlled formation of liposomes with instantaneous immobilization by means of ultrarapid cooling. The microfluidic device is composed of capillaries to hydrodynamically focus a stream of lipids dissolved in 2-propanol by two adjacent aqueous buffer streams before rapidly cooling by propane jet-freezing. The capillary containing the frozen sheath-flow is subsequently separated from the flow-focusing unit and trimmed with cryo-ultramicrotomy for imaging with cryo-scanning electron microscopy (SEM). The emergence of liposomes could be visualized by cryo-SEM without the need for chemical fixation or labeling. We demonstrate that the method is capable of revealing in more detail the formation of nonequilibrium liposomes. Partially and completely formed liposomes were observed at the miscible alcohol-buffer interface. The number density of lipid vesicles varied along the focused interface, and we frequently found clusters of liposomes. Additionally, evidence for the formation of disclike transient intermediates is presented. The method is not limited to studying self-assembly processes only. It can be extended to other biochemical reactions, crystallization processes, and even systematic interfacial mixing studies between different solvents.


Andreas Jahn, Falk Lucas, Roger A Wepf, Petra S Dittrich. Freezing continuous-flow self-assembly in a microfluidic device: toward imaging of liposome formation. Langmuir : the ACS journal of surfaces and colloids. 2013 Feb 5;29(5):1717-23

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PMID: 23289615

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