Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) – Biomembranes, 2019,
The plant-derived biosurfactant aescin is naturally present in many plants and is used for treatment of disorders such as varicose veins and inflammation of veins. The hemolytic activity of this saponin is attributed to its interaction with cholesterol in the red blood cell membrane. This work investigates the phase and aggregation behavior of saponin-containing model membranes consisting of the phospholipid 1,2-dimyristoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine (DMPC). The aescin concentrations studied range from 1 mol% to 7 mol% with respect to the total lipid content. The methods of choice to elucidate the structural picture are small-angle scattering of X-rays (SAXS) and neutrons (SANS) and cryogenic transmission electron microscopy (cryo-TEM). SANS and SAXS revealed that at lower aescin contents vesicular structures are conserved and vesicles tend to aggregate already at aescin contents of around 1 mol%. Aggregation and vesicle deformation effects are found to be stronger when the phospholipids are in the Lβ′ phase. With increasing aescin content, mixed structures, i.e. aggregated and deformed vesicles and solubilized bilayer fragments, are present. This was proven for a sample with 4 mol% aescin by cryo-TEM. An increasing aescin amount leads to membrane decomposition and free standing bilayers which tend to build stacks at high temperature. These stacks are characterized by SAXS using the modified Caillé theory. Analyses and model dependent fitting reveal formation of well-defined structures beginning at 7 mol% aescin.