Phospholipid nanodiscs are novel model membranes normally consisting of a bilayer of phospholipids and a Membrane Scaffold Protein (MSP) belt wrapped around the structure. They have been used to study the structure of membrane proteins and as drug carriers. Our collaborators, led by Dr Tim Dafforn in Birmingham have found thath a similar structure can be prepared using a styrene-maleic-acid copolymer which takes the place of the protein belt. Since polymer synthesis is relatively straightforward and easily scalable, this allows nanodiscs to be prepared in large quantities, enabling us to carry out detailed studies of their structure and properties. Our aim is to work out why this particular polymer stabilizes lipid nanodiscs and to develop new nanodisc systems with detailed control of the nanodisc structures. Control of the size, stability and chemical properties of the nanodiscs is crucial for future applications since it will facilitate incorporation of the widest possible range of integral membrane proteins and provide the necessary versatility to tailor drug delivery systems.
This work is part of a larger collaboration using polymer-stabilized phospholipid nanodiscs for membrane protein purification and structural studies led by Dr Tim Dafforn at Birmingham University.