The physical properties of the lamellar lipid-bilayer component of biological membranes are controlled by a host of thermodynamic forces leading to overall tensionless bilayers with a conspicuous lateral pressure profile and build-in curvature-stress instabilities that may be released locally or globally in terms of morphological changes. In particular, the average molecular shape and the propensity of the different lipid and protein species for forming non-lamellar and curved structures are a source of structural transitions and control of biological function. The effects of different lipids, sterols, and proteins on membrane structure are discussed and it is shown how one can take advantage of the curvature-stress modulations brought about by specific molecular agents, such as fatty acids, lysolipids, and other amphiphilic solutes, to construct intelligent drug-delivery systems that function by enzymatic triggering via curvature.
Practical applications: The simple concept of lipid molecular shape and how it impacts on the structure of lipid aggregates, in particular the curvature and curvature stress in lipid bilayers and liposomes, can be exploited to construct liposome-based drug-delivery systems, e.g., for use as nano-medicine in cancer therapy. Non-lamellar-forming lysolipids and fatty acids, some of which may be designed to be prodrugs, can be created by phospholipase action in diseased tissues thereby providing for targeted drug release and proliferation of molecular entities with conical shape that break down the permeability barrier of the target cells and may hence enhance efficacy.