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Biophys J. 2006 Sep 15;91(6):2046-54. Epub 2006 Jun 30.

Indole localization in lipid membranes revealed by molecular simulation.

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Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry and The School of Computational Science, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL, USA.


It is commonly known that the amino acid residue tryptophan and its side-chain analogs, e.g., indole, are strongly attracted to the interfacial region of lipid bilayers. Phenylalanine and its side-chain analogs, e.g., benzene, do not localize in the interface but are distributed throughout the lipid bilayer. We use molecular dynamics to investigate the details of indole and benzene localization and orientation within a POPC bilayer and the factors that lead to their different properties. We identify three sites in the bilayer at which indole is localized: 1), a site in the interface near the glycerol moiety; 2), a weakly bound site in the interface near the choline moiety; and 3), a weakly bound site in the center of the bilayer's hydrocarbon core. Benzene is localized in the same three positions, but the most stable position is the hydrocarbon core followed by the site near the glycerol moiety. Transfer of indole from water to the hydrocarbon core shows a classic hydrophobic effect. In contrast, interfacial binding is strongly enthalpy driven. We use several different sets of partial charges to investigate the factors that contribute to indole's and benzene's orientational and spatial distribution. Our simulations show that a number of electrostatic interactions appear to contribute to localization, including hydrogen bonding to the lipid carbonyl groups, cation-pi interactions, interactions between the indole dipole and the lipid bilayer's strong interfacial electric field, and nonspecific electrostatic stabilization due to a mismatch in the variation of the nonpolar forces and local dielectric with position in the bilayer.

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