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ACS Nano. 2017 Feb 28;11(2):1273-1280. doi: 10.1021/acsnano.6b05434. Epub 2017 Jan 24.

Carbon Nanotubes Mediate Fusion of Lipid Vesicles.

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Department of Theoretical Biophysics, Max Planck Institute of Biophysics , Max-von-Laue Straße 3, 60438 Frankfurt am Main, Germany.
Institute for Biophysics, Goethe University Frankfurt , 60438 Frankfurt am Main, Germany.


The fusion of lipid membranes is opposed by high energetic barriers. In living organisms, complex protein machineries carry out this biologically essential process. Here we show that membrane-spanning carbon nanotubes (CNTs) can trigger spontaneous fusion of small lipid vesicles. In coarse-grained molecular dynamics simulations, we find that a CNT bridging between two vesicles locally perturbs their lipid structure. Their outer leaflets merge as the CNT pulls lipids out of the membranes, creating an hourglass-shaped fusion intermediate with still intact inner leaflets. As the CNT moves away from the symmetry axis connecting the vesicle centers, the inner leaflets merge, forming a pore that completes fusion. The distinct mechanism of CNT-mediated membrane fusion may be transferable, providing guidance in the development of fusion agents, e.g., for the targeted delivery of drugs or nucleic acids.


carbon nanotube; coarse-grained simulations; membrane fusion; membrane staples; vesicle


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