J. Phys. II France
Volume 6, Numéro 7, July 1996
Page(s) 1067 - 1090
DOI: 10.1051/jp2:1996116
J. Phys. II France 6 (1996) 1067-1090

Thermal Hysteresis Phenomena in Micellar Solutions of Gangliosides: Theory and Experiments

Laura Cantu'1, Mario Corti2, Elena del Favero1, Elena Digirolamo1 and Antonio Raudino3

1  Study Center for Functional Biochemistry of Brain Lipids, Department of Medical Chemistry and Biochemistry, the Medical School, University of Milan, via Saldini 50, 20133 Milan, Italy
2  INFM-Department of Electronics, University of Pavia, via Abbiategrasso 209, 27100 Pavia, Italy
3  Department of Chemistry, University of Catania, viale A. Doria 6, 9515 Catania, Italy

(Received 4 October 1995, revised 30 November 1995, accepted 22 March 1996)

Light scattering experiments show that micellar solutions of various gangliosides have a thermotropic behaviour which is irreversible with respect to temperature. Gangliosides, amphiphilic molecules of biological origin, form micelles in solution which decrease their average aggregation number upon heating. When a critical temperature is reached, any further cooling and heating cycle does not alter the micellar size. This process, not determined by a denaturation of the ganglioside molecule, is explained by considering the temperature-dependent coupling between micellar aggregation number and molecular conformation of ganglioside polar head groups. A simple model is proposed which assumes that the polar heads may exist in two different stable conformations, each of them with an energy dependent on its own internal structure and on the interactions with the surrounding heads at the micelle surface. The interconversion between the conformational minima is then described as a cooperative event, with a naturally emerging barrier due to collective effects which accounts for the experimentally observed irreversibilities. The model has some resemblances with the solidification process from an undercooled fluid, with the main difference that it deals with a confined two-dimensional system at the micellar surface.

© Les Editions de Physique 1996