Institute of Crystallography - CNR

Table-top combined scanning X-ray small angle scattering and transmission microscopies of lipid vesicles dispersed in free-standing gel

A mm thick free-standing gel containing lipid vesicles made of 2-oleoyl-1-palmitoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine (POPC) was studied by scanning Small Angle X-ray Scattering (SAXS) and X-ray Transmission (XT) microscopies. Raster scanning relatively large volumes, besides reducing the risk of radiation damage, allows signal integration, improving the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR), as well as high statistical significance of the dataset. The persistence of lipid vesicles in gel was demonstrated, while mapping their spatial distribution and concentration gradients. Information about lipid aggregation and packing, as well as about gel density gradients, was obtained.A posterioriconfirmation of lipid presence in well-defined sample areas was obtained by studying the dried sample, featuring clear Bragg peaks from stacked bilayers. The comparison between wet and dry samples allowed it to be proved that lipids do not significantly migrate within the gel even upon drying, whereas bilayer curvature is lost by removing water, resulting in lipids packed in ordered lamellae. Suitable algorithms were successfully employed for enhancing transmission microscopy sensitivity to low absorbing objects, and allowing full SAXS intensity normalization as a general approach. In particular, data reduction includes normalization of the SAXS intensity against the local sample thickness derived from absorption contrast maps. The proposed study was demonstrated by a room-sized instrumentation, although equipped with a high brilliance X-ray micro-source, and is expected to be applicable to a wide variety of organic, inorganic, and multicomponent systems, including biomaterials. The employed routines for data reduction and microscopy, including Gaussian filter for contrast enhancement of low absorbing objects and a region growing segmentation algorithm to exclude no-sample regions, have been implemented and made freely available through the updated in-house developed software SUNBIM.

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