Membranes (May 2023)

Membrane Order Effect on the Photoresponse of an Organic Transducer

  • Vito Vurro,
  • Matteo Moschetta,
  • Gaia Bondelli,
  • Samim Sardar,
  • Arianna Magni,
  • Valentina Sesti,
  • Giuseppe Maria Paternò,
  • Chiara Bertarelli,
  • Cosimo D’Andrea,
  • Guglielmo Lanzani

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 13, no. 5
p. 538


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Non-genetic photostimulation, which allows for control over cellular activity via the use of cell-targeting phototransducers, is widely used nowadays to study and modulate/restore biological functions. This approach relies on non-covalent interactions between the phototransducer and the cell membrane, thus implying that cell conditions and membrane status can dictate the effectiveness of the method. For instance, although immortalized cell lines are traditionally used in photostimulation experiments, it has been demonstrated that the number of passages they undergo is correlated to the worsening of cell conditions. In principle, this could impact cell responsivity against exogenous stressors, including photostimulation. However, these aspects have usually been neglected in previous experiments. In this work, we investigated whether cell passages could affect membrane properties (such as polarity and fluidity). We applied optical spectroscopy and electrophysiological measurements in two different biological models: (i) an epithelial immortalized cell line (HEK-293T cells) and (ii) liposomes. Different numbers of cell passages were compared to a different morphology in the liposome membrane. We demonstrated that cell membranes show a significant decrease in ordered domains upon increasing the passage number. Furthermore, we observed that cell responsivity against external stressors is markedly different between aged and non-aged cells. Firstly, we noted that the thermal-disordering effect that is usually observed in membranes is more evident in aged cells than in non-aged ones. We then set up a photostimulation experiment by using a membrane-targeted azobenzene as a phototransducer (Ziapin2). As an example of a functional consequence of such a condition, we showed that the rate of isomerization of an intramembrane molecular transducer is significantly impaired in aged cells. The reduction in the photoisomerization rate translates in cells with a sustained reduction of the Ziapin2-related hyperpolarization of the membrane potential and an overall increase in the molecule fluorescence. Overall, our results suggest that membrane stimulation strongly depends on membrane order, highlighting the importance of cell passage during the characterization of the stimulation tools. This study can shine light on the correlation between aging and the development of diseases driven by membrane degradation as well as on the different cell responsivities against external stressors, such as temperature and photostimulation.