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Biophys J. 2007 Apr 1;92(7):2366-76. Epub 2007 Jan 11.

How alcohol chain-length and concentration modulate hydrogen bond formation in a lipid bilayer.

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Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, University of California Davis, Davis, California 95616, USA.


Molecular dynamics simulations are used to measure the change in properties of a hydrated dipalmitoylphosphatidylcholine bilayer when solvated with ethanol, propanol, and butanol solutions. There are eight oxygen atoms in dipalmitoylphosphatidylcholine that serve as hydrogen bond acceptors, and two of the oxygen atoms participate in hydrogen bonds that exist for significantly longer time spans than the hydrogen bonds at the other six oxygen atoms for the ethanol and propanol simulations. We conclude that this is caused by the lipid head group conformation, where the two favored hydrogen-bonding sites are partially protected between the head group choline and the sn-2 carbonyl oxygen. We find that the concentration of the alcohol in the ethanol and propanol simulations does not have a significant influence on the locations of the alcohol/lipid hydrogen bonds, whereas the concentration does impact the locations of the butanol/lipid hydrogen bonds. The concentration is important for all three alcohol types when the lipid chain order is examined, where, with the exception of the high-concentration butanol simulation, the alcohol molecules having the longest hydrogen-bonding relaxation times at the favored carbonyl oxygen acceptor sites also have the largest order in the upper chain region. The lipid behavior in the high-concentration butanol simulation differs significantly from that of the other alcohol concentrations in the order parameter, head group rotational relaxation time, and alcohol/lipid hydrogen-bonding location and relaxation time. This appears to be the result of the system being very near to a phase transition, and one occurrence of lipid flip-flop is seen at this concentration.

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