The structure of zwitterionic phosphocholine surfactant monolayers

M. Yaseen, J. R. Lu, J. R. P. Webster, J. Penfold

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

76 Citations (Scopus)


The structure of a zwitterionic phosphocholine (PC) surfactant monolayer adsorbed on the surface of water has been determined using neutron reflectivity in combination with H/D isotopic substitution. The most significant results of this study are the level of hydration of the PC headgroup and the lack of dehydration with increasing temperature and salt addition. The fraction of the alkyl chain (fc) immersed in water for all three chain isomers studied was found to be around 0.15, suggesting that the PC headgroup geometries influenced not only the headgroup hydration but also the degree of immersion of the alkyl chain in water. At the critical micelle concentration (CMC), the number of water molecules associated with the PC headgroup in CmPC (m = 12, 14, 16) was on order of 15. This value was significantly greater than that obtained for nonionic and ionic surfactants with similar limiting area per molecule at the CMC (Acmc). However, the fraction of the chain immersed in water for the ionic and nonionic surfactants was much greater. This suggests that the unique surface biocompatibility of PC surfactants arises from their strong affinity for water, and the relatively low fraction of mixing with the alkyl chain arises from the higher structural order within the PC monolayer. As surface coverage decreased, the number of water molecules associated with each PC headgroup increased, but fc remained constant for all the surfactants. This observation was consistent with the small variation in the thickness of the headgroup region, and the entire layer changed little with surfactant concentration. This is attributed to the role of PC headgroup geometries to maintain the conformational order within the layer as packing density varies. Further structural analysis based on a kinematic approach showed that, as the chain length was increased from C12 to C14 to C16 at the CMC, the angle of tilt for the alkyl chain increased from 40° to 48° to 53°, respectively, whereas the thickness of the whole layer and that of the PC head region was largely constant. The almost vertical projection of the PC headgroup from these single alkyl chain surfactants is in sharp contrast to its strongly tilted conformation, as reported for dichain phospholipids such as dipalmitoyl glycerol phosphocholine (DPPC).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5825-5832
Number of pages8
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - 26 May 2006


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