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J Phys Chem B. 2006 Nov 30;110(47):24157-64.

Investigation of finite system-size effects in molecular dynamics simulations of lipid bilayers.

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Department of Physiology and Biophysics and Department of Chemistry, University of California, Irvine, California 92697-2025, USA.


In the absence of external stress, the surface tension of a lipid membrane vanishes at equilibrium, and the membrane exhibits long wavelength undulations that can be described as elastic (as opposed to tension-dominated) deformations. These long wavelength fluctuations are generally suppressed in molecular dynamics simulations of membranes, which have typically been carried out on membrane patches with areas <100 nm2 that are replicated by periodic boundary conditions. As a result, finite system-size effects in molecular dynamics simulations of lipid bilayers have been subject to much discussion in the membrane simulation community for several years, and it has been argued that it is necessary to simulate small membrane patches under tension to properly model the tension-free state of macroscopic membranes. Recent hardware and software advances have made it possible to simulate larger, all-atom systems allowing us to directly address the question of whether the relatively small size of current membrane simulations affects their physical characteristics compared to real macroscopic bilayer systems. In this work, system-size effects on the structure of a DOPC bilayer at 5.4 H2O/lipid are investigated by performing molecular dynamics simulations at constant temperature and isotropic pressure (i.e., vanishing surface tension) of small and large single bilayer patches (72 and 288 lipids, respectively), as well as an explicitly multilamellar system consisting of a stack of five 72-lipid bilayers, all replicated in three dimensions by using periodic boundary conditions. The simulation results are compared to X-ray and neutron diffraction data by using a model-free, reciprocal space approach developed recently in our laboratories. Our analysis demonstrates that finite-size effects are negligible in simulations of DOPC bilayers at low hydration, and suggests that refinements are needed in the simulation force fields.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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