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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Dynamic combinatorial chemistry at the phospholipid bilayer interface

Friederike M Mansfeld1, Ho Yu Au-Yeung1, Jeremy KM Sanders1 and Sijbren Otto2*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Chemistry, University of Cambridge, Lensfield Road, Cambridge, CB2 1EW, UK

2 Centre for Systems Chemistry, Stratingh Institute, University of Groningen, Nijenborgh 4, 9747 AG Groningen, The Netherlands

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Journal of Systems Chemistry 2010, 1:12  doi:10.1186/1759-2208-1-12

Published: 8 September 2010



Molecular recognition at the environment provided by the phospholipid bilayer interface plays an important role in biology and is subject of intense investigation. Dynamic combinatorial chemistry is a powerful approach for exploring molecular recognition, but has thus far not been adapted for use in this special microenvironment.


Thioester exchange was found to be a suitable reversible reaction to achieve rapid equilibration of dynamic combinatorial libraries at the egg phosphatidyl choline bilayer interface. Competing thioester hydrolysis can be minimised by judicial choice of the structure of the thioesters and the experimental conditions. Comparison of the library compositions in bulk solution with those in the presence of egg PC revealed that the latter show a bias towards the formation of library members rich in membrane-bound building blocks. This leads to a shift away from macrocyclic towards linear library members.


The methodology to perform dynamic combinatorial chemistry at the phospholipid bilayer interface has been developed. The spatial confinement of building blocks to the membrane interface can shift the ring-chain equilibrium in favour of chain-like compounds. These results imply that interfaces may be used as a platform to direct systems to the formation of (informational) polymers under conditions where small macrocycles would dominate in the absence of interfacial confinement.

Graphical abstract