Synthetic Mimics of Bacterial Lipid A Trigger Optical Transitions in Liquid Crystal Microdroplets at Ultralow Picogram-per-Milliliter Concentrations

We report synthetic six-tailed mimics of the bacterial glycolipid Lipid A that trigger changes in the internal ordering of water-dispersed liquid crystal (LC) microdroplets at ultralow (picogram-per-milliliter) concentrations. These molecules represent the first class of synthetic amphiphiles to mimic the ability of Lipid A and bacterial endotoxins to trigger optical responses in LC droplets at these ultralow concentrations. This behavior stands in contrast to all previously reported synthetic surfactants and lipids, which require near-complete monolayer coverage at the LC droplet surface to trigger ordering transitions. Surface-pressure measurements and SAXS experiments reveal these six-tailed synthetic amphiphiles to mimic key aspects of the self-assembly of Lipid A at aqueous interfaces and in solution. These and other results suggest that these amphiphiles trigger orientational transitions at ultralow concentrations through a unique mechanism that is similar to that of Lipid A and involves formation of inverted self-associated nanostructures at topological defects in the LC droplets.