Skip to main content
  • Preliminary communication
  • Open access
  • Published:

Exploding vesicles


While studying fatty acid vesicles as model primitive cell membranes, we encountered a dramatic phenomenon in which light triggers the sudden rupture of micron-scale dye-containing vesicles, resulting in rapid release of vesicle contents. We show that such vesicle explosions are caused by an increase in internal osmotic pressure mediated by the oxidation of the internal buffer by reactive oxygen species (ROS). The ability to release vesicle contents in a rapid, spatio-temporally controlled manner suggests many potential applications, such as the targeted delivery of cancer chemotherapy drugs, and the controlled deposition of functionalized nanoparticles in microfluidic devices. Recent observations of light-triggered lysosome rupture in vivo suggest the possibility that a common mechanism may underlie light-triggered vesicle explosions and lysosome rupture.


Vesicles are bilayer membrane structures that encapsulate an internal aqueous compartment. Fatty acid vesicles have been studied as models of primitive cell membranes at the origin of life [17], and phospholipid vesicles (liposomes) have been widely studied as models of modern cell and organelle membranes [8, 9] and as drug delivery vehicles [1012]. We first observed the phenomenon of "exploding vesicles" during microscopic observations of large (approximately 4 μm in diameter) oleate vesicles containing 10 mM HPTS (8-hydroxypyrene-1,3,6-trisulfonic acid trisodium salt, a water-soluble, membrane-impermeable fluorescent dye), in 0.2 M Na-bicine buffer, pH 8.5. The vesicles were prepared by extrusion and dialysis, so that the fluorescent dye was present only inside the vesicles while the buffer was present in both inner and outer solutions [13]. To our surprise, we observed that these vesicles suddenly exploded shortly (approximately 0.5 sec) after being exposed to intense illumination from a metal halide lamp (estimated irradiance 2.5 W/mm2), and released their encapsulated dye along with smaller internal vesicles (Figure 1A; Additional File 1 Figure S1; Additional File 2). The actual vesicle rupture appeared to take place in < 2 ms (3 frames in a recording from a high-speed camera: Additional File 3); this estimate is an upper limit because of the time required for diffusion of the released dye away from the vesicle. We observed similar vesicle explosions using vesicles containing different internal fluorescent dyes, such as calcein and Rose Bengal (a photodynamic therapy drug).

Figure 1
figure 1

Exploding vesicles. (A) A sequence of images showing the explosion of an oleate vesicle (containing 10 mM HPTS, in 0.2 M Na-bicine, pH 8.5) under intense illumination, releasing the encapsulated dye (0.11 sec) and smaller internal vesicles (0.33 sec). (B) A sequence of images showing the explosion and membrane rupture of an oleate vesicle labeled by a membrane-localized dye (Rh-DHPE, vesicle containing 10 mM HPTS, in 0.2 M Na-bicine, pH 8.5) under intense illumination at the excitation wavelength for HPTS (Additional File 4). Scale bar, 5 μm.

Additional file 2:Exploding vesicles. This real-time movie shows that oleate vesicles (containing 10 mM HPTS, in 0.2 M Na-bicine, pH 8.5) exploded shortly (~0.5 sec) after being exposed to intense illumination (QuickTime; 9 FPS; 1 MB). Scale bar, 10 μm. (MOV 735 KB)

To distinguish between physical rupture and rapid permeabilization of the vesicle membrane, we labeled the vesicles with a membrane-localized dye (Rh-DHPE, Lissamine rhodamine B 1,2-dihexadecanoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphoethanolamine). Upon illumination, we observed that the vesicle membrane burst open on one side and then quickly recoiled (Figure 1B; Additional File 4). When using slightly lower illumination intensity, we observed the gradual rupture of the multiple layers of multilamellar vesicles, starting from the outer layers and progressing to the inner layers (Additional File 5). We tested several possible explanations for the physical mechanism of light-triggered vesicle explosion. Numerical calculations suggested that rapid temperature rise due to dye-mediated absorption of incident light energy was unlikely to be relevant, since the maximum temperature increase in a vesicle was estimated to be < 0.1°C (Additional File 1 Figure S2). We then considered the hypothesis that reactive oxygen species (ROS) generated by the illumination of fluorescent dyes such as HPTS might react with vesicle membrane components or vesicle contents [14, 15], leading to vesicle rupture. We tested this model by adding 10 mM DTT (dithiothreitol, a reducing agent) to the vesicle suspension, in order to consume free oxygen and scavenge ROS as they were produced [16]. Under these conditions we no longer observed vesicle explosions, even under intense illumination.

We then asked whether the vesicle membrane, composed of an unsaturated fatty acid, oleic acid, or the encapsulated vesicle contents, e.g., the internal buffer bicine (N,N-bis(2-hydroxyethyl)glycine), were the target of the radical-mediated oxidation. Oxidation of the unsaturated oleate hydrocarbon chain to either an epoxide or a hydroxylated derivative would certainly destabilize the membrane, and could lead to rapid vesicle rupture. If oleate was the target of oxidative damage, then replacing oleate with a saturated amphiphile should prevent vesicle explosion. However, when we prepared vesicles with a saturated fatty acid/fatty alcohol mixture (decanoate:decanol (2:1) vesicles containing 10 mM HPTS, in 0.2 M Na-bicine, pH 8.5), we still observed vesicle explosions. In contrast, replacing the internal bicine buffer with glycinamide or Tris buffer completely prevented vesicle explosions, suggesting that the radical-mediated oxidation of the internal buffer was responsible for the vesicle explosions. To further test the idea that it was oxidation of the internal solute that was critical, we placed equal concentrations of the fluorescent dye (10 mM HPTS) inside and outside of oleate vesicles (in 0.2 M Na-bicine, pH 8.5; vesicles were labeled by a membrane-localized dye, Rh-DHPE). The presence of external HPTS completely prevented vesicle explosions, even after intense illumination for 10 sec (Additional File 1 Figure S3). Thus, oxidation of the internal buffer in the absence of oxidation of the external buffer is essential for vesicle explosions. We tested this idea further by performing cross-mixing experiments, in which vesicles prepared in 0.2 M Na-bicine buffer (containing 10 mM HPTS, pH 8.5) were diluted into 0.2 M Na-glycinamide buffer (pH 8.5), and vice versa. We observed vesicle explosions only when the vesicles contained bicine and the external solution did not. Thus, the internal buffer solute, bicine, is the key target molecule leading to vesicle explosions.

We next asked how the products of the radical-mediated oxidation of bicine could lead to vesicle explosions. It has been shown previously that ROS can oxidize bicine to diethanolamine, formic acid, and bicarbonate [17]. We hypothesized that this pathway of oxidative degradation could increase the internal osmotic pressure of a vesicle, leading to rupture of the membrane (Figure 2A, C). To test this model, we placed 50 μl of a solution containing 0.2 M Na-bicine (pH 8.5), 10 mM HPTS, and 0.1 M H2O2 in a microcentrifuge tube, and illuminated the sample through a 480 ± 20 nm filter for 20 min. We used 0.1 M H2O2 as an additional source of oxygen for this bulk solution reaction; in the case of vesicles, oxygen molecules from the surrounding solution can enter the vesicle by diffusion and membrane permeation. We analyzed the sample, before and after illumination, by mass spectrometry and detected diethanolamine after illumination, one of the predicted oxidation products of bicine (we could not detect formic acid due to its lower molecular weight) (Figure 2D). NMR analysis of the products of bicine degradation suggested the presence of both diethanolamine and formic acid after illumination (Additional File 1 Figure S4) in amounts corresponding to oxidation of approximately 10% of the bicine. We propose a possible mechanism for the radical-mediated oxidation of bicine based on the current model experiment and previous studies (Additional File 1 Figure S5) [1719]. Additional experiments would be required to test this mechanistic hypothesis, and to show that it operates during the illumination of vesicles containing fluorescent dyes.

Figure 2
figure 2

Mechanism of vesicle explosion. (A) Schematic diagram for radical-mediated oxidation of bicine, leading to increased internal osmotic pressure in a vesicle. (B) Osmolarity of a bicine solution (containing 10 mM HPTS, 0.2 M Na-bicine, and 0.1 M H2O2) before and after 20 min of illumination. Error bars show s.d. (n = 3). (C) Proposed radical-mediated oxidation products of bicine: diethanolamine, formic acid, and bicarbonate. (D) Mass spectrometry of a bicine solution before (left) and after (right) illumination (ESI-MS in positive mode; bicine at m/z 186.0, diethanolamine at m/z 106.2).

To correlate buffer degradation with increased osmotic pressure, we compared the osmolarity of samples (0.2 M Na-bicine, 10 mM HPTS, and 0.1 M H2O2, pH 8.5) before and after illumination, using a vapor pressure osmometer, and observed an increase of approximately 60 mOsm/L (Figure 2B), corresponding to the fragmentation of approximately 15% of the bicine solute. The pH of the solution did not change significantly, presumably due to the buffering effect of the remaining bicine. At pH 8.5, approximately 99.5% of dissolved carbon dioxide (as H2CO3 , pKa 6.35) exists in the form of bicarbonate (HCO3-), contributing predominately to the increased osmotic pressure as opposed to gas-induced volume expansion. Thus, photochemically induced oxidative degradation of bicine can and does lead to an increase in osmotic pressure.

We then determined how much of an osmotic gradient would be required to cause vesicle membrane rupture by diluting vesicles into a hypotonic solution through a micropipette (Additional File 1 Figure S6; Additional File 6). We found that an osmotic gradient of only approximately 20 mOsm/L is sufficient to rupture the outer membranes of oleate vesicles of approximately 4 μm in diameter. We estimated that the rupture surface tension for oleate membrane is approximately 12 dyn/cm, as calculated from the osmotic pressure gradient required for rupture and the Young-Laplace equation, accounting for vesicle swelling from a relaxed to a swollen spherical shape (Additional File 1) [20, 21], a result which is in good agreement with the previously reported value (10 dyn/cm) determined in experiments with 100 nm vesicles [20]. As a further test of the osmotic rupture model, we examined the size dependence of vesicle explosions. For a given cross-membrane osmotic gradient, larger vesicles are subject to greater surface tension and therefore are expected to explode more rapidly than smaller ones under the same illumination intensity (Additional File 1). We prepared a population of polydisperse oleate vesicles with diameters ranging from 100 nm to 10 μm (all containing 10 mM HPTS, in 0.2 M Na-bicine, pH 8.5), and observed that the larger (> 3 μm in diameter) vesicles exploded rapidly under intense illumination while the smaller vesicles remained intact, until the encapsulated HPTS gradually became photobleached (Additional File 1 Figure S7; Additional File 7). As a final test of the osmotic rupture model, we diluted vesicles into a hypertonic solution (containing 0.5 M sucrose and 0.2 M Na-bicine, pH 8.5), whereupon they shrank due to water efflux. After exposure to intense illumination, the vesicles swelled and returned to their original spherical shape, but failed to explode. Taken together, the above experiments suggest that photo-degradation of only approximately 5% of the bicine buffer would be sufficient to cause vesicle explosion. Calculations based on photon flux, dye concentration and extinction coefficient, and the quantum yield of ROS generation suggest that sufficient ROS to degrade that amount of bicine would readily be generated in < 0.5 sec (Additional File 1).

Additional file 6:Critical osmotic gradient for membrane rupture. This real-time movie shows a vesicle being diluted into a hypotonic solution through a micropipette. The outer membranes ruptured, and the smaller internal vesicles were released (under low intensity illumination for imaging) (QuickTime; 9 FPS; 2 MB). Scale bar, 10 μm. (MOV 1 MB)

Additional file 7:Size dependence of vesicle explosions. This real-time movie shows that in a population of polydisperse oleate vesicles (containing 10 mM HPTS, in 0.2 M Na-bicine, pH 8.5), under intense illumination, the larger (> 3 μm in diameter) vesicles explode rapidly while the smaller ones remain intact (QuickTime; 9 FPS; 3 MB). Scale bar, 10 μm. (MOV 3 MB)

Having developed a reasonable mechanistic explanation of the vesicle explosion phenomenon, we turned to the exploration of practical applications of the ability to release vesicle-encapsulated substances in a rapid, spatio-temporally controlled manner. A major question in treating cancer is how to localize the release of cytotoxic drugs to target tumors [11], thus reducing systemic toxicity. By delivering a drug such as a chemotherapeutic agent through photoactivation, exploding vesicles may be used to localize drug release and strengthen the effectiveness of cancer treatments. As a proof-of-principle, we designed photoactivable vesicles containing chemotherapy drugs (cisplatin or carboplatin) and used an in vitro cell culture system to test the effectiveness of this potential photoactivated delivery system (Additional File 1 Figure S8). This delivery method, because of its ability to rapidly (< 1 sec) rupture the membrane and release vesicle contents, could serve as an alternative to several existing methods for photoactivated membrane permeabilization and drug delivery (Additional File 1) [10, 2224]. One potential problem with this approach is that the generation of large amounts of ROS that lead to vesicle rupture may limit the variety of drugs that can be delivered. Using drug-conjugated nanoparticles [25] to carry and protect cargo drugs from immediate radical oxidation during photoactivation may help to resolve this issue. It may also be possible to design different photochemical processes that increase the internal osmotic pressure and induce vesicle membrane rupture without generating ROS. Alternatively, it may be possible to harness the ROS generated by exploding vesicles to kill cancer cells. Exploding vesicles can also be used to release functionalized nanoparticles for applications such as localized surface modification of a microfluidic channel. In a proof-of-principle experiment, we encapsulated biotin-coated fluorescent nanoparticles (40 nm in diameter) in oleate vesicles (containing 10 mM HPTS, in 0.2 M Na-bicine, pH 8.5), which were lysed under intense illumination in a microfluidic channel (Additional File 1 Figure S9A, B, C; Additional File 8). This process allowed the released biotin-coated fluorescent nanoparticles to attach to the streptavidin-coated surface of a microfluidic channel [26] within the illuminated region of approximately 100 μm in length (Additional File 1 Figure S9D). More generally, the ability to release vesicle-encapsulated substances in a highly spatio-temporally controlled manner provides an alternative to the chemical release of caged derivatives of small molecules [27], such as for studying bacterial chemotaxis and neuronal signaling (Additional File 1 Figure S10).

Other examples of vesicle leakage or bursting following illumination have been reported, which may result from phenomena similar to those reported here. For example, prolonged illumination (minutes to hours) of phospholipid GUVs containing membrane-localized fluorescent dyes led to a gradual increase in membrane tension, ultimately leading to a cycle of opening of a transient pore in the membrane, followed by leakage of vesicle contents and pore closing [28]. In another case, 500 nm LUVs containing a high (self-quenching) concentration of calcein, docked to a supported lipid bilayer by a SNARE complex, were occasionally observed to burst during illumination [29]. In neither of these cases was the mechanism driving increased membrane tension and subsequent leakage or bursting investigated.

Recent observations of light-triggered rupture of dye-containing lysosomes in vivo may be related to the phenomena that we have described above. Lysosomes stained with acridine orange in rat and human astrocytes exploded under laser illumination [30], and acridine orange stained lysosomes in human fibroblasts ruptured under intense illumination [31]. We have observed the explosion of autofluorescent lysosomes (containing lipofuscin pigments ("aging pigments") [32]) in adult/aging C. elegans under intense UV (360 ± 20 nm) illumination (Additional File 1 Figure S11; Additional File 9), suggesting that similar phenomena might occur in a variety of cells and animal models. Additionally, studies on photodynamic therapy have revealed that certain photosensitizers accumulate in lysosomes and can cause lysosome rupture and release of lysosomal enzymes during photodynamic treatments, leading to cell necrosis [33]. Most current models suggest that either temperature increase or the oxidation of lysosome membranes leads to lysosome rupture [34]. Our study of the in vitro exploding vesicle system suggests another possible mechanism for oxidative stress induced lysosome rupture: oxidation of lysosomal internal solutes (such as peptides and amino acids) leading to increased osmotic pressure and ultimately membrane rupture. Future experiments to analyze lysosomal internal solutes and to address how their oxidation may increase the internal osmolarity of lysosomes may help to elucidate the mechanism of oxidative stress induced lysosome rupture.


  1. Szostak JW, Bartel DP, Luisi PL: Synthesizing life. Nature 2001, 409: 387–390. 10.1038/35053176

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. Hanczyc MM, Fujikawa SM, Szostak JW: Experimental models of primitive cellular compartments: encapsulation, growth, and division. Science 2003, 302: 618–622. 10.1126/science.1089904

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  3. Zhu TF, Szostak JW: Coupled growth and division of model protocell membranes. J Am Chem Soc 2009, 131: 5705–5713. 10.1021/ja900919c

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. Gebicki JM, Hicks M: Ufasomes are stable particles surrounded by unsaturated fatty acid membranes. Nature 1973, 243: 232–234. 10.1038/243232a0

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. Deamer DW: Boundary structures are formed by organic-components of the Murchison carbonaceous chondrite. Nature 1985, 317: 792–794. 10.1038/317792a0

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. Deamer DW, Pashley RM: Amphiphilic components of the Murchison carbonaceous chondrite: surface properties and membrane formation. Orig Life Evol Biosph 1989, 19: 21–38. 10.1007/BF01808285

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. Wick R, Walde P, Luisi PL: Light microscopic investigations of the autocatalytic self-reproduction of giant vesicles. J Am Chem Soc 1995, 117: 1435–1436. 10.1021/ja00109a031

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Bruckner RJ, Mansy SS, Ricardo A, Mahadevan L, Szostak JW: Flip-flop-induced relaxation of bending energy: implications for membrane remodeling. Biophys J 2009, 97: 3113–3122. 10.1016/j.bpj.2009.09.025

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. Farge E, Devaux PF: Shape changes of giant liposomes induced by an asymmetric transmembrane distribution of phospholipids. Biophys J 1992, 61: 347–357. 10.1016/S0006-3495(92)81841-6

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  10. Wu G, Mikhailovsky A, Khant HA, Fu C, Chiu W, Zasadzinski JA: Remotely triggered liposome release by near-infrared light absorption via hollow gold nanoshells. J Am Chem Soc 2008, 130: 8175–8177. 10.1021/ja802656d

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. Cheong I, Huang X, Bettegowda C, Diaz LA, Kinzler KW, Zhou S, Vogelstein B: A bacterial protein enhances the release and efficacy of liposomal cancer drugs. Science 2006, 314: 1308–1311. 10.1126/science.1130651

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. Puri A, Kramer-Marek G, Campbell-Massa R, Yavlovich A, Tele SC, Lee SB, Clogston JD, Patri AK, Blumenthal R, Capala J: HER2-specific affibody-conjugated thermosensitive liposomes (Affisomes) for improved delivery of anticancer agents. J Liposome Res 2008, 18: 293–307. 10.1080/08982100802457377

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  13. Zhu TF, Szostak JW: Preparation of large monodisperse vesicles. PLoS ONE 2009, 4: e5009. 10.1371/journal.pone.0005009

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Gandin E, Lion Y, Vandevorst A: Quantum yield of singlet oxygen production by xanthene derivatives. Photochemistry and Photobiology 1983, 37: 271–278. 10.1111/j.1751-1097.1983.tb04472.x

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  15. Kochevar IE, Redmond RW: Photosensitized production of singlet oxygen. Methods Enzymol 2000, 319: 20–28.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  16. Tse HM, Milton MJ, Piganelli JD: Mechanistic analysis of the immunomodulatory effects of a catalytic antioxidant on antigen-presenting cells: implication for their use in targeting oxidation-reduction reactions in innate immunity. Free Radic Biol Med 2004, 36: 233–247. 10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2003.10.029

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  17. Horikoshi S, Watanabe N, Mukae M, Hidaka H, Serpone N: Mechanistic examination of the titania photocatalyzed oxidation of ethanolamines. New J Chem 2001, 25: 999–1005. 10.1039/b102186i

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  18. Sorensen M, Zurell S, Frimmel FH: Degradation pathway of the photochemical oxidation of ethylenediaminetetraacetate (EDTA) in the UV/H2O2-process. Acta Hydroch Hydrob 1998, 26: 109–115. 10.1002/(SICI)1521-401X(199803)26:2<109::AID-AHEH109>3.0.CO;2-C

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Stadtman ER: Oxidation of free amino acids and amino acid residues in proteins by radiolysis and by metal-catalyzed reactions. Annu Rev Biochem 1993, 62: 797–821. 10.1146/

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  20. Chen IA, Roberts RW, Szostak JW: The emergence of competition between model protocells. Science 2004, 305: 1474–1476. 10.1126/science.1100757

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  21. Mui BL, Cullis PR, Evans EA, Madden TD: Osmotic properties of large unilamellar vesicles prepared by extrusion. Biophys J 1993, 64: 443–453. 10.1016/S0006-3495(93)81385-7

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  22. Selbo PK, Hogset A, Prasmickaite L, Berg K: Photochemical internalisation: a novel drug delivery system. Tumour Biol 2002, 23: 103–112. 10.1159/000059713

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  23. Yavlovich A, Smith B, Gupta K, Blumenthal R, Puri A: Light-sensitive lipid-based nanoparticles for drug delivery: design principles and future considerations for biological applications. Mol Membr Biol 2010, 27: 364–381. 10.3109/09687688.2010.507788

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  24. Heuvingh J, Bonneau S: Asymmetric oxidation of giant vesicles triggers curvature-associated shape transition and permeabilization. Biophys J 2009, 97: 2904–2912. 10.1016/j.bpj.2009.08.056

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  25. Sengupta S, Eavarone D, Capila I, Zhao G, Watson N, Kiziltepe T, Sasisekharan R: Temporal targeting of tumour cells and neovasculature with a nanoscale delivery system. Nature 2005, 436: 568–572. 10.1038/nature03794

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  26. Elenko MP, Szostak JW, van Oijen AM: Single-molecule imaging of an in vitro-evolved RNA aptamer reveals homogeneous ligand binding kinetics. J Am Chem Soc 2009, 131: 9866–9867. 10.1021/ja901880v

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  27. Harvey CD, Svoboda K: Locally dynamic synaptic learning rules in pyramidal neuron dendrites. Nature 2007, 450: 1195–1200. 10.1038/nature06416

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  28. Karatekin E, Sandre O, Guitouni H, Borghi N, Puech PH, Brochard-Wyart F: Cascades of transient pores in giant vesicles: line tension and transport. Biophys J 2003, 84: 1734–1749. 10.1016/S0006-3495(03)74981-9

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  29. Bowen ME, Weninger K, Brunger AT, Chu S: Single molecule observation of liposome-bilayer fusion thermally induced by soluble N-ethyl maleimide sensitive-factor attachment protein receptors (SNAREs). Biophys J 2004, 87: 3569–3584. 10.1529/biophysj.104.048637

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  30. Jaiswal JK, Fix M, Takano T, Nedergaard M, Simon SM: Resolving vesicle fusion from lysis to monitor calcium-triggered lysosomal exocytosis in astrocytes. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2007, 104: 14151–14156. 10.1073/pnas.0704935104

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  31. Brunk UT, Dalen H, Roberg K, Hellquist HB: Photo-oxidative disruption of lysosomal membranes causes apoptosis of cultured human fibroblasts. Free Radic Biol Med 1997, 23: 616–626. 10.1016/S0891-5849(97)00007-5

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  32. Clokey GV, Jacobson LA: The autofluorescent "lipofuscin granules" in the intestinal cells of Caenorhabditis elegans are secondary lysosomes. Mech Ageing Dev 1986, 35: 79–94. 10.1016/0047-6374(86)90068-0

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  33. Santus R, Kohen C, Kohen E, Reyftmann JP, Morliere P, Dubertret L, Tocci PM: Permeation of lysosomal membranes in the course of photosensitization with methylene blue and hematoporphyrin: study by cellular microspectrofluorometry. Photochem Photobiol 1983, 38: 71–77. 10.1111/j.1751-1097.1983.tb08368.x

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  34. Kurz T, Terman A, Gustafsson B, Brunk UT: Lysosomes and oxidative stress in aging and apoptosis. Biochim Biophys Acta 2008, 1780: 1291–1303. 10.1016/j.bbagen.2008.01.009

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  35. Knox RJ, Friedlos F, Lydall DA, Roberts JJ: Mechanism of cytotoxicity of anticancer platinum drugs: evidence that cis-diamminedichloroplatinum(II) and cis-diammine-(1,1-cyclobutanedicarboxylato)platinum(II) differ only in the kinetics of their interaction with DNA. Cancer Res 1986, 46: 1972–1979.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  36. Liu D, Mori A, Huang L: Role of liposome size and RES blockade in controlling biodistribution and tumor uptake of GM1-containing liposomes. Biochim Biophys Acta 1992, 1104: 95–101. 10.1016/0005-2736(92)90136-A

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  37. Nagayasu A, Uchiyama K, Kiwada H: The size of liposomes: a factor which affects their targeting efficiency to tumors and therapeutic activity of liposomal antitumor drugs. Adv Drug Deliv Rev 1999, 40: 75–87. 10.1016/S0169-409X(99)00041-1

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  38. Soler AM, Angell-Petersen E, Warloe T, Tausjo J, Steen HB, Moan J, Giercksky KE: Photodynamic therapy of superficial basal cell carcinoma with 5-aminolevulinic acid with dimethylsulfoxide and ethylendiaminetetraacetic acid: a comparison of two light sources. Photochem Photobiol 2000, 71: 724–729. 10.1562/0031-8655(2000)071<0724:PTOSBC>2.0.CO;2

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  39. Dolmans DE, Fukumura D, Jain RK: Photodynamic therapy for cancer. Nat Rev Cancer 2003, 3: 380–387. 10.1038/nrc1071

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  40. Triesscheijn M, Baas P, Schellens JHM, Stewart FA: Photodynamic therapy in oncology. Oncologist 2006, 11: 1034–1044. 10.1634/theoncologist.11-9-1034

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  41. Price M, Reiners JJ, Santiago AM, Kessel D: Monitoring singlet oxygen and hydroxyl radical formation with fluorescent probes during photodynamic therapy. Photochem Photobiol 2009, 85: 1177–1181. 10.1111/j.1751-1097.2009.00555.x

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references


We thank M. Elenko, J. Irazoqui, R. Irwin, T. Kawate, C. Lin, A. Luptak, S. Mansy, C. Wong, N. Zhang, and S. Zhang for their helpful discussions and comments on the manuscript. We especially thank N. Zhang for his assistance in performing the NMR experiments and interpreting the results, and J. Irazoqui for his assistance with the C. elegans experiments. J.W.S. is an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. This work was supported in part by grant EXB02-0031-0018 from the NASA Exobiology Program to J.W.S.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jack W Szostak.

Additional information

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Authors' contributions

All experiments were performed by TFZ. Both authors designed the experiments, discussed the results and wrote the paper. Both authors have read and approved the publication of the final version of this paper.

Electronic supplementary material


Additional file 1:Additional information. This file includes Methods, Additional Text, and Additional Figures [3541]. (PDF 487 KB)


Additional file 3:High-speed movie of an exploding vesicle. This high-speed (played at 1/100 actual speed) movie shows an oleate vesicle (containing 10 mM HPTS, in 0.2 M Na-bicine, pH 8.5) exploding under intense illumination (QuickTime; 15 frames per 10 ms; 4 MB). Scale bar, 10 μm. (MOV 4 MB)


Additional file 4:Exploding vesicle labeled by a membrane dye. This real-time movie shows an oleate vesicle (containing 10 mM HPTS, in 0.2 M Na-bicine, pH 8.5, labeled by a membrane-localized dye (Rh-DHPE)) that exploded and ruptured its membrane, under intense illumination at the excitation wavelength for HPTS (QuickTime; 9 FPS; 1 MB). Scale bar, 10 μm. (MOV 262 KB)


Additional file 5:Explosion of a multilamellar vesicle. This real-time movie shows the gradual rupture of multiple layers of vesicle membranes, starting from the outer layers of an oleate vesicle (containing 10 mM HPTS, in 0.2 M Na-bicine, pH 8.5) and progressing to the inner layers (QuickTime; 9 FPS; 2 MB). Scale bar, 10 μm. (MOV 2 MB)


Additional file 8:Nanoparticle release from exploding vesicle. This real-time movie shows that an oleate vesicle (containing 10 mM HPTS, in 0.2 M Na-bicine, pH 8.5) containing encapsulated biotin-coated fluorescent nanoparticles (40 nm in diameter) exploded shortly after being exposed to intense illumination, releasing a cloud of nanoparticles, which attached to a streptavidin-coated glass surface (QuickTime; 9 FPS; 3 MB). Scale bar, 10 μm. (MOV 3 MB)


Additional file 9:Lysosome explosions in adult C. elegans. This real-time movie shows that under intense UV (360 ± 20 nm) illumination, autofluorescent lysosomes explode, releasing the lysosomal contents (QuickTime; 5 FPS; 10 MB). Scale bar, 10 μm. (MOV 11 MB)

Authors’ original submitted files for images

Below are the links to the authors’ original submitted files for images.

Authors’ original file for figure 1

Authors’ original file for figure 2

Rights and permissions

Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Zhu, T.F., Szostak, J.W. Exploding vesicles. J Syst Chem 2, 4 (2011).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • DOI: