Conical Lipids in Flat Bilayers Induce Packing Defects Similar to that Induced by Positive Curvature
In biological membranes, changes in lipid composition or mechanical deformations produce defects in the geometrical arrangement of lipids, thus allowing the adsorption of certain peripheral proteins. Here, we perform molecular dynamics simulations on bilayers containing a cylindrical lipid (PC) and a conical lipid (DOG). Profiles of atomic density and lateral pressure across the bilayer show differences in the acyl chain region due to deeper partitioning of DOG compared to PC. However, such analyses are less informative for the interfacial region where peripheral proteins adsorb. To circumvent this limitation, we develop, to our knowledge, a new method of membrane surface analysis. This method allows the identification of chemical defects, where hydrocarbon chains are accessible to the solvent, and geometrical defects, i.e., voids deeper than the glycerol backbone. The size and number of both types of defects increase with the number of monounsaturated acyl chains in PC and with the introduction of DOG, although the defects do not colocalize with the conical lipid. Interestingly, the size and probability of the defects promoted by DOG resemble those induced by positive curvature, thus explaining why conical lipids and positive curvature can both drive the adsorption of peripheral proteins that use hydrophobic residues as membrane anchors.