The heterogeneity of the decay of the fluorescence of transparinaric acid in single-component lipid bilayers at temperatures above their gel/liquid crystalline phase transition is shown to be due to the presence of regions of higher local density and higher acyl chain order than the predominant fluid regions. This conclusion is based on selective excitation behavior and the observation of time-resolved fluorescence anisotropies that increase at long times. The fractional amplitude of the long lifetime component of the fluorescence shows a temperature variation that conforms to conventional descriptions of critical behavior. The critical exponent extracted from this variation is 1.1, close to the value of 1.0 that describes ultrasonic data. We therefore conclude that liquid crystalline lipid bilayers exhibit critical behavior with significant density and order fluctuations. This behavior must be taken into account in the interpretation of fluorescence and other spectroscopic measurements of the properties of bilayers.
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