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Biochemistry. 1993 Nov 30;32(47):12624-37.

Solute diffusion in lipid bilayer membranes: an atomic level study by molecular dynamics simulation.

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Department of Macromolecular Modeling, Bristol-Myers Squibb Pharmaceutical Research Institute, Princeton, New Jersey 08543.


To elucidate the mechanism of solute diffusion through lipid bilayer membranes, nearly 4 ns of molecular dynamics simulations of solutes in phospholipid bilayers was conducted. The study, the first atomic level study of solute diffusion in a lipid bilayer, involved four simulations of an all-atom representation of a fully solvated dimyristoylphosphatidylcholine (DMPC) bilayer in the L alpha phase with benzene molecules as solutes, totaling over 7100 atoms. These simulations agree with experimental evidence that the presence of small solutes does not affect bilayer thickness but does result in slight perturbations in the ordering of the hydrocarbon chains. At room temperature, the benzene molecules have essentially isotropic motion and rotate freely. The rate of translational diffusion varies with position within the bilayer and is faster in the center than near the zwitterionic headgroups and is in excellent agreement with experimental values for the diffusion of small solutes in a bilayer. These simulations have elucidated the mechanism of diffusion in a bilayer to be similar to the "hopping" mechanism found for the diffusion of gases through soft polymers. Jumps of up to 8 A can occur in as little as 5 ps whereas average motions for that time period are only approximately 1.5 A. In many cases, the jumps are moderated by torsional changes in the hydrocarbon chains which serve as "gates" between voids through which the benzene molecules move. Comparison of these simulations with another 1000-ps simulation of benzene in a pure alkane provides evidence that lipid bilayers should not be treated as a homogeneous bulk hydrocarbon phase.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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