PLoS Computational Biology (Oct 2014)

Lipid clustering correlates with membrane curvature as revealed by molecular simulations of complex lipid bilayers.

  • Heidi Koldsø,
  • David Shorthouse,
  • Jean Hélie,
  • Mark S P Sansom

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 10, no. 10
p. e1003911


Read online

Cell membranes are complex multicomponent systems, which are highly heterogeneous in the lipid distribution and composition. To date, most molecular simulations have focussed on relatively simple lipid compositions, helping to inform our understanding of in vitro experimental studies. Here we describe on simulations of complex asymmetric plasma membrane model, which contains seven different lipids species including the glycolipid GM3 in the outer leaflet and the anionic lipid, phosphatidylinositol 4,5-bisphophate (PIP2), in the inner leaflet. Plasma membrane models consisting of 1500 lipids and resembling the in vivo composition were constructed and simulations were run for 5 µs. In these simulations the most striking feature was the formation of nano-clusters of GM3 within the outer leaflet. In simulations of protein interactions within a plasma membrane model, GM3, PIP2, and cholesterol all formed favorable interactions with the model α-helical protein. A larger scale simulation of a model plasma membrane containing 6000 lipid molecules revealed correlations between curvature of the bilayer surface and clustering of lipid molecules. In particular, the concave (when viewed from the extracellular side) regions of the bilayer surface were locally enriched in GM3. In summary, these simulations explore the nanoscale dynamics of model bilayers which mimic the in vivo lipid composition of mammalian plasma membranes, revealing emergent nanoscale membrane organization which may be coupled both to fluctuations in local membrane geometry and to interactions with proteins.