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Biophys. J., 103 (5), 918–929 (2012)
Biomembranes are thin capacitors with the unique feature of displaying phase transitions in a physiologically relevant regime. We investigate the voltage and lateral pressure dependence of their capacitance close to their chain melting transition. Because the gel and the fluid membrane have different area and thickness, the capacitance of the two membrane phases is different. In the presence of external fields, charges exert forces that can influence the state of the membrane, thereby influencing the transition temperature. This phenomenon is called “electrostriction”. We show that this effect allows us to introduce a capacitive susceptibility that assumes a maximum in the melting transition with an associated excess charge. As a consequence, voltage regimes exist in which a small change in voltage can lead to a large uptake of charge and a large capacitive current. Furthermore, we consider electromechanical behavior such as pressure-induced changes in capacitance, and the application of such concepts in biology.