Structure of DNA-cationic surfactant complexes at hydrophobically modified and hydrophilic silica surfaces as revealed by neutron reflectometry

Marité Cárdenas, Hanna Wacklin, Richard A. Campbell, Tommy Nylander

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this article, we discuss the structure and composition of mixed DNA-cationic surfactant adsorption layers on both hydrophobic and hydrophilic solid surfaces. We have focused on the effects of the bulk concentrations, the surfactant chain length, and the type of solid surface on the interfacial layer structure (the location, coverage, and conformation of the DNA and surfactant molecules). Neutron reflectometry is the technique of choice for revealing the surface layer structure by means of selective deuteration. We start by studying the interfacial complexation of DNA with dodecyltrimethylammonium bromide (DTAB) and hexadecyltrimethylammonium bromide (CTAB) on hydrophobic surfaces, where we show that DNA molecules are located on top of a self-assembled surfactant monolayer, with the thickness of the DNA layer and the surfactant-DNA ratio determined by the surface coverage of the underlying cationic layer. The surface coverages of surfactant and DNA are determined by the bulk concentration of the surfactant relative to its critical micelle concentration (cmc). The structure of the interfacial layer is not affected by the choice of cationic surfactant studied. However, to obtain similar interfacial structures, a higher concentration in relation to its cmc is required for the more soluble DTAB surfactant with a shorter alkyl chain than for CTAB. Our results suggest that the DNA molecules will spontaneously form a relatively dense, thin layer on top of a surfactant monolayer (hydrophobic surface) or a layer of admicelles (hydrophilic surface) as long as the surface concentration of surfactant is great enough to ensure a high interfacial charge density. These findings have implications for bioanalytical and nanotechnology applications, which require the deposition of DNA layers with well-controlled structure and composition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12506-12514
Number of pages9
Issue number20
Publication statusPublished - 18 Oct 2011


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