Motivated by ongoing efforts to understand the mechanism of membrane protein crystallogenesis and transport in the lipidic cubic phase, the nature of the interaction between tryptophan and the bilayer/aqueous interface of the cubic phase has been investigated. The association was quantified by partitioning measurements that enabled the free energy of interaction to be determined. Temperature-dependent partitioning was used to parse the association free energy change into its enthalpic and entropic components. As has been observed with tryptophan derivatives interacting with glycerophospholipid bilayers in vesicles, tryptophan partitioning in the cubic phase is enthalpy driven. This is in contrast to partitioning into apolar solvents, which exhibits the classic hydrophobic effect whose hallmark is a favorable entropy change. These results with tryptophan are somewhat surprising given the simplicity, homogeneity, and curvature of the interface that prevails in the case of the cubic phase. Nevertheless, the interaction between tryptophan and the mesophase is very slight as revealed by its low partition coefficient. Additional evidence in support of the interaction was obtained by electronic absorption and fluorescence spectroscopy and fluorescence quenching. Partitioning proved insensitive to the lipid composition of the membrane, examined by doping with glycerophospholipids. However, the interaction could be manipulated in meaningful ways by the inclusion in the aqueous medium of salt, glycerol, or urea. The effects seen with tryptophan were amplified rationally when measurements were repeated using tryptophan alkyl esters and with tryptophan peptides of increasing length. These findings are interpreted in the context of the insertion, folding, and function of proteins in membranes.
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