Molecular characterization of gel and liquid-crystalline structures of fully hydrated POPC and POPE bilayers.

Research paper by Sukit S Leekumjorn, Amadeu K AK Sum

Indexed on: 10 May '07Published on: 10 May '07Published in: Journal of Physical Chemistry B


Molecular dynamics simulations were used for a comprehensive study of the structural properties of monounsaturated POPC and POPE bilayers in the gel and liquid-crystalline state at a number of temperatures, ranging from 250 to 330 K. Though the chemical structures of POPC and POPE are largely similar (choline versus ethanolamine headgroup), their transformation processes from a gel to a liquid-crystalline state are contrasting. In the similarities, the lipid tails for both systems are tilted below the phase transition and become more random above the phase transition temperature. The average area per lipid and bilayer thickness were found less sensitive to phase transition changes as the unsaturated tails are able to buffer reordering of the bilayer structure, as observed from hysteresis loops in annealing simulations. For POPC, changes in the structural properties such as the lipid tail order parameter, hydrocarbon trans-gauche isomerization, lipid tail tilt-angle, and level of interdigitation identified a phase transition at about 270 K. For POPE, three temperature ranges were identified, in which the lower one (270-280 K) was associated with a pre-transition state and the higher (290-300 K) with the post-transition state. In the pre-transition state, there was a significant increase in the number of gauche arrangements formed along the lipid tails. Near the main transition (280-290 K), there was a lowering of the lipid order parameters and a disappearance of the tilted lipid arrangement. In the post-transition state, the carbon atoms along the lipid tails became less hindered as their density profiles showed uniform distributions. This study also demonstrates that atomistic simulations of current lipid force fields are capable of capturing the phase transition behavior of lipid bilayers, providing a rich set of molecular and structural information at and near the main transition state.