Spatial localization of charged molecules by salt ions in oil-confined water microdroplets

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Science Advances  07 Oct 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 41, eaba0181
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aba0181


Cells contain more than 100 mM salt ions that are typically confined to dimensions of 5 to 10 micrometers by a hydrophobic cellular membrane. We found that in aqueous microdroplets having the same size as cells and that are confined in hydrocarbon oil, negatively charged molecules were distributed rather uniformly over the interior of the microdroplet, whereas positively charged molecules were localized at and near the surface. However, the addition of salt (NaCl) to the microdroplet caused all charged molecules to be localized near the oil-water interface. This salt-induced relocalization required less salt concentration in microdroplets compared to bulk water. Moreover, the localization became more prominent as the size of the microdroplet was reduced. The relocatization also critically depended on the type of oil. Our results imply that salt ions and different hydrophobic interfaces together may govern the local distribution of charged biomolecules in confined intracellular environments.

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