Theranostics 2012; 2(12):1140-1159. doi:10.7150/thno.4305


Bursting Bubbles and Bilayers

Steven P. Wrenn1✉, Stephen M. Dicker1, Eleanor F. Small1, Nily R. Dan1, Michał Mleczko2, Georg Schmitz2, Peter A. Lewin3

1. Drexel University, Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, 3141 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.
2. Lehrstuhl für Medizintechnik, Universitätsstr. 150, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, 44801 Bochum, GERMANY.
3. Drexel University, School of Biomedical Engineering, Science & Health Systems, 3141 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.

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Wrenn SP, Dicker SM, Small EF, Dan NR, Mleczko M, Schmitz G, Lewin PA. Bursting Bubbles and Bilayers. Theranostics 2012; 2(12):1140-1159. doi:10.7150/thno.4305. Available from

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This paper discusses various interactions between ultrasound, phospholipid monolayer-coated gas bubbles, phospholipid bilayer vesicles, and cells. The paper begins with a review of microbubble physics models, developed to describe microbubble dynamic behavior in the presence of ultrasound, and follows this with a discussion of how such models can be used to predict inertial cavitation profiles. Predicted sensitivities of inertial cavitation to changes in the values of membrane properties, including surface tension, surface dilatational viscosity, and area expansion modulus, indicate that area expansion modulus exerts the greatest relative influence on inertial cavitation. Accordingly, the theoretical dependence of area expansion modulus on chemical composition - in particular, poly (ethylene glyclol) (PEG) - is reviewed, and predictions of inertial cavitation for different PEG molecular weights and compositions are compared with experiment. Noteworthy is the predicted dependence, or lack thereof, of inertial cavitation on PEG molecular weight and mole fraction. Specifically, inertial cavitation is predicted to be independent of PEG molecular weight and mole fraction in the so-called mushroom regime. In the “brush” regime, however, inertial cavitation is predicted to increase with PEG mole fraction but to decrease (to the inverse 3/5 power) with PEG molecular weight. While excellent agreement between experiment and theory can be achieved, it is shown that the calculated inertial cavitation profiles depend strongly on the criterion used to predict inertial cavitation. This is followed by a discussion of nesting microbubbles inside the aqueous core of microcapsules and how this significantly increases the inertial cavitation threshold. Nesting thus offers a means for avoiding unwanted inertial cavitation and cell death during imaging and other applications such as sonoporation. A review of putative sonoporation mechanisms is then presented, including those involving microbubbles to deliver cargo into a cell, and those - not necessarily involving microubbles - to release cargo from a phospholipid vesicle (or reverse sonoporation). It is shown that the rate of (reverse) sonoporation from liposomes correlates with phospholipid bilayer phase behavior, liquid-disordered phases giving appreciably faster release than liquid-ordered phases. Moreover, liquid-disordered phases exhibit evidence of two release mechanisms, which are described well mathematically by enhanced diffusion (possibly via dilation of membrane phospholipids) and irreversible membrane disruption, whereas liquid-ordered phases are described by a single mechanism, which has yet to be positively identified. The ability to tune release kinetics with bilayer composition makes reverse sonoporation of phospholipid vesicles a promising methodology for controlled drug delivery. Moreover, nesting of microbubbles inside vesicles constitutes a truly “theranostic” vehicle, one that can be used for both long-lasting, safe imaging and for controlled drug delivery.

Keywords: ultrasound, cavitation, sonoporation, microbubble, liposome, membrane.