Line Tensions, Correlation Lengths, and Critical Exponents in Lipid Membranes Near Critical Points
Membranes containing a wide variety of ternary mixtures of high chain-melting temperature lipids, low chain-melting temperature lipids, and cholesterol undergo lateral phase separation into coexisting liquid phases at a miscibility transition. When membranes are prepared from a ternary lipid mixture at a critical composition, they pass through a miscibility critical point at the transition temperature. Since the critical temperature is typically on the order of room temperature, membranes provide an unusual opportunity in which to perform a quantitative study of biophysical systems that exhibit critical phenomena in the two-dimensional Ising universality class. As a critical point is approached from either high or low temperature, the scale of fluctuations in lipid composition, set by the correlation length, diverges. In addition, as a critical point is approached from low temperature, the line tension between coexisting phases decreases to zero. Here we quantitatively evaluate the temperature dependence of line tension between liquid domains and of fluctuation correlation lengths in lipid membranes to extract a critical exponent, Î½. We obtain Î½ = 1.2 ± 0.2, consistent with the Ising model prediction Î½ = 1. We also evaluate the probability distributions of pixel intensities in fluorescence images of membranes. From the temperature dependence of these distributions above the critical temperature, we extract an independent critical exponent of Î² = 0.124 ± 0.03, which is consistent with the Ising prediction of Î² = 1/8.