Molecular dynamics simulation of cation-phospholipid clustering in phospholipid bilayers: possible role in stalk formation during membrane fusion.

Research paper by Hui-Hsu Gavin HH Tsai, Wei-Xiang WX Lai, Hong-Da HD Lin, Jian-Bin JB Lee, Wei-Fu WF Juang, Wen-Hsin WH Tseng

Indexed on: 12 Jun '12Published on: 12 Jun '12Published in: Biochimica et biophysica acta


In this study, we performed all-atom long-timescale molecular dynamics simulations of phospholipid bilayers incorporating three different proportions of negatively charged lipids in the presence of K(+), Mg(2+), and Ca(2+) ions to systemically determine how membrane properties are affected by cations and lipid compositions. Our simulations revealed that the binding affinity of Ca(2+) ions with lipids is significantly stronger than that of K(+) and Mg(2+) ions, regardless of the composition of the lipid bilayer. The binding of Ca(2+) ions to the lipids resulted in bilayers having smaller lateral areas, greater thicknesses, greater order, and slower rotation of their lipid head groups, relative to those of corresponding K(+)- and Mg(2+)-containing systems. The Ca(2+) ions bind preferentially to the phosphate groups of the lipids. The complexes formed between the cations and the lipids further assembled to form various multiple-cation-centered clusters in the presence of anionic lipids and at higher ionic strength-most notably for Ca(2+). The formation of cation-lipid complexes and clusters dehydrated and neutralized the anionic lipids, creating a more-hydrophobic environment suitable for membrane aggregation. We propose that the formation of Ca(2+)-phospholipid clusters across apposed lipid bilayers can work as a "cation glue" to adhere apposed membranes together, providing an adequate configuration for stalk formation during membrane fusion.