Nanoscale Measurement of the Dielectric Constant of Supported Lipid Bilayers in Aqueous Solutions with Electrostatic Force Microscopy
We present what is, to our knowledge, the first experimental demonstration of dielectric constant measurement and quantification of supported lipid bilayers in electrolyte solutions with nanoscale spatial resolution. The dielectric constant was quantitatively reconstructed with finite element calculations by combining thickness information and local polarization forces which were measured using an electrostatic force microscope adapted to work in a liquid environment. Measurements of submicrometric dipalmitoylphosphatidylcholine lipid bilayer patches gave dielectric constants of µr < 3, which are higher than the values typically reported for the hydrophobic part of lipid membranes (µr < 2) and suggest a large contribution of the polar headgroup region to the dielectric response of the lipid bilayer. This work opens apparently new possibilities in the study of biomembrane electrostatics and other bioelectric phenomena.