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Biophys J. 1995 Mar;68(3):729-38.

Calculations of the electrostatic potential adjacent to model phospholipid bilayers.

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Department of Physiology and Biophysics, HSC, SUNY Stony Brook 11794, USA.


We used the nonlinear Poisson-Boltzmann equation to calculate electrostatic potentials in the aqueous phase adjacent to model phospholipid bilayers containing mixtures of zwitterionic lipids (phosphatidylcholine) and acidic lipids (phosphatidylserine or phosphatidylglycerol). The aqueous phase (relative permittivity, epsilon r = 80) contains 0.1 M monovalent salt. When the bilayers contain < 11% acidic lipid, the -25 mV equipotential surfaces are discrete domes centered over the negatively charged lipids and are approximately twice the value calculated using Debye-Hückel theory. When the bilayers contain > 25% acidic lipid, the -25 mV equipotential profiles are essentially flat and agree well with the values calculated using Gouy-Chapman theory. When the bilayers contain 100% acidic lipid, all of the equipotential surfaces are flat and agree with Gouy-Chapman predictions (including the -100 mV surface, which is located only 1 A from the outermost atoms). Even our model bilayers are not simple systems: the charge on each lipid is distributed over several atoms, these partial charges are non-coplanar, there is a 2 A ion-exclusion region (epsilon r = 80) adjacent to the polar headgroups, and the molecular surface is rough. We investigated the effect of these four factors using smooth (or bumpy) epsilon r = 2 slabs with embedded point charges: these factors had only minor effects on the potential in the aqueous phase.

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