Spreading of small unilamellar vesicles on solid surfaces is one of the most common ways to obtain supported lipid bilayers. Although the method has been used successfully for many years, the details of this process are still the subject of intense debate. Particularly controversial is the mechanism of bilayer formation on metallic surfaces like gold. In this work, we have employed scanning probe microscopy techniques to evaluate the details of lipid vesicles spreading and formation of the lipid bilayer on a Au(111) surface in a phosphate-buffered saline solution. Nanoscale imaging revealed that the mechanism of this process differs significantly from that usually assumed for hydrophilic surfaces such as mica, glass, and silicon oxide. Formation of the bilayer on gold involves several steps. Initially, the vesicles accumulate on a gold surface and release lipid molecules that adsorb on a Au(111) surface, giving rise to the appearance of highly ordered stripelike domains. The latter serve as a template for the buildup of a hemimicellar film, which contributes to the increased hydrophilicity of the external surface and facilitates further adsorption and rupture of the vesicles. As a result, the bilayer is spread over a hemimicellar film, and then it is followed by slow fusion between coupled layers leading to formation of a single bilayer supported on a gold surface. We believe that the results presented in this work may provide some new insights into the area of research related to supported lipid bilayers.
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