Deuterium (2H) NMR spectroscopy provides detailed information regarding the structural fluctuations of lipid bilayers, including both the equilibrium properties and dynamics. Experimental 2H NMR measurements for the homologous series of 1,2-diacyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholines with perdeuterated saturated chains (from C12:0 to C18:0) have been performed on randomly oriented, fully hydrated multilamellar samples. For each lipid, the C-D bond order parameters have been calculated from de-Paked 2H NMR spectra as a function of temperature. The experimental order parameters were analyzed using a mean-torque potential model for the acyl chain segment distributions, and comparison was made with the conventional diamond lattice approach. Statistical mechanical principles were used to relate the measured order parameters to the lipid bilayer structural parameters: the hydrocarbon thickness and the mean interfacial area per lipid. At fixed temperature, the area decreases with increasing acyl length, indicating increased van der Waals attraction for longer lipid chains. However, the main effect of increasing the acyl chain length is on the hydrocarbon thickness rather than on the area per lipid. Expansion coefficients of the structural parameters are reported and interpreted using an empirical free energy function that describes the force balance in fluid bilayers. At the same absolute temperature, the phosphatidylcholine (PC) series exhibits a universal chain packing profile that differs from that of phosphatidylethanolamines (PE). Hence, the lateral packing of phospholipids is more sensitive to the headgroup methylation than to the acyl chain length. A fit to the area per lipid for the PC series using the empirical free energy function shows that the PE area represents a limiting value for the packing of fluid acyl chains.
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