Biophysical Reviews

, Volume 9, Issue 4, pp 309–320 | Cite as

Room-temperature ionic liquids meet bio-membranes: the state-of-the-art

  • Antonio BenedettoEmail author


Room-temperature ionic liquids (RTIL) are a new class of organic salts whose melting temperature falls below the conventional limit of 100 °C. Their low vapor pressure, moreover, has made these ionic compounds the solvents of choice of the so-called green chemistry. For these and other peculiar characteristics, they are increasingly used in industrial applications. However, studies of their interaction with living organisms have highlighted mild to severe health hazards. Since their cytotoxicity shows a positive correlation with their lipophilicity, several chemical–physical studies of their interactions with biomembranes have been carried out in the last few years, aiming to identify the molecular mechanisms behind their toxicity. Cation chain length and anion nature of RTILs have seemed to affect lipophilicity and, in turn, their toxicity. However, the emerging picture raises new questions, points to the need to assess toxicity on a case-by-case basis, but also suggests a potential positive role of RTILs in pharmacology, bio-medicine and bio-nanotechnology. Here, we review this new subject of research, and comment on the future and the potential importance of this emerging field of study.


Ionic liquids Biomembranes Phospholipid bilayers Toxicity Biomedicine Nanotechnology 



A.B. thanks Prof. Pietro Ballone for fruitful discussions, and acknowledges support from (i) The European Community under the Marie-Curie Fellowship Grants HYDRA (No. 301463) and PSI-FELLOW (No. 290605), and (ii) The Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) under the Start Investigator Research Grant 15-SIRG-3538, with additional support provided by the School of Physics, University College Dublin, Ireland, and the Laboratory for Neutron Scattering, Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI), Switzerland.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

Antonio Benedetto declares that he has no conflicts of interest.

Ethical approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.


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Copyright information

© International Union for Pure and Applied Biophysics (IUPAB) and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of PhysicsUniversity College DublinDublin 4Ireland
  2. 2.Laboratory for Neutron ScatteringPaul Scherrer InstitutVilligenSwitzerland

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