Optical methods for the study of dynamics in biological membrane models
Membranes are highly complex and heterogeneous interfaces that are the active partition between living cells and the outside world. Many biologically important processes occur at the membrane surface, such as transmembrane transport and signaling. Many of these processes depend on the subtle interactions between the different membrane constituents: lipids, proteins and water. At present, a large body of knowledge exists on the molecular composition and static structure of membranes. However, our understanding of the dynamics of membrane molecules has not yet reached the same level of sophistication. Information on membrane dynamics, such as conformational fluctuations, conformational changes and dynamical interactions between membrane constituents are essential for a full understanding of membrane action. Here, we review a recently developed approach aimed at obtaining such dynamical information. The approach is based on surface-specific femtosecond laser vibrational spectroscopy, and is illustrated for simple membrane model systems.