Local heterogeneity in lipid self-assembly is important for executing the cellular membrane functions. In this work, we chemically modified 2-(2′-hydroxyphenyl)benzoxazole (HBO) and attached a C8 alkyl chain in two different locations to probe the microscopic environment of four lipidic phases of dodecyl β-maltoside. The fluorescence change in HBO and the new probes (HBO-1 and HBO-2) shows that in all phases (micellar, hexagonal, cubic and lamellar) three HBO tautomeric species (solvated syn-enol, anionic, and closed syn-keto) are stable. The formation of multi tautomers reflects the heterogeneity of the lipidic phases. The results indicate that HBO and HBO-1 reside in a similar location within the head group region, whereas HBO-2 is slightly pushed away from the sugar-dominated area. The stability of the solvated syn-enol tautomer is due to the formation of a hydrogen bond between the OH group of the HBO moiety and an adjacent oxygen atom of a sugar unit. The detected HBO anions was proposed to be a consequence of this solvation effect where a hydrogen ion abstraction by the sugar units is enhanced. Our results point to a degree of local heterogeneity and ionization ability in the head group region as a consequence of the sugar amphoterism.
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