Author(s): Risselada HJ, Marrink SJ
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Abstract Cell membranes contain a large number of different lipid species. Such a multicomponent mixture exhibits a complex phase behavior with regions of structural and compositional heterogeneity. Especially domains formed in ternary mixtures, composed of saturated and unsaturated lipids together with cholesterol, have received a lot of attention as they may resemble raft formation in real cells. Here we apply a simulation model to assess the molecular nature of these domains at the nanoscale, information that has thus far eluded experimental determination. We are able to show the spontaneous separation of a saturated phosphatidylcholine (PC)/unsaturated PC/cholesterol mixture into a liquid-ordered and a liquid-disordered phase with structural and dynamic properties closely matching experimental data. The near-atomic resolution of the simulations reveals remarkable features of both domains and the boundary domain interface. Furthermore, we predict the existence of a small surface tension between the monolayer leaflets that drives registration of the domains. At the level of molecular detail, raft-like lipid mixtures show a surprising face with possible implications for many cell membrane processes.
This article was published in Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A
and referenced in Current Synthetic and Systems Biology