Computer simulations of the phase separation in model membranes
We used computer simulations to investigate the properties of model lipid membranes with coexisting phases. This is relevant for understanding lipid-lipid interactions underlying lateral organization in biological membranes. Molecular dynamics simulations with the MARTINI coarse-grained force field were employed to study lipid bilayers [similar]40 nm in lateral dimension on a 20 [small mu ]s time scale. The simulations retain near atomic-level detail and lipid chemical specificity, and allow formation of multiple domains of tens of nanometers in size. Using ternary lipid mixtures of saturated and unsaturated lipids and cholesterol, we reproduced the coexistence of the L[small alpha]/gel phases and the Lo/Ld phases. Phase transformation proceeded by either nucleation or spinodal decomposition. The properties of coexisting phases were characterized in detail, including partial lipid areas, composition, phase boundary and domain registry, based on Voronoi tessellation. We investigated variations of these properties with temperature and surface tension, and compared them to our recent simulations of lipid monolayers of the same size and composition. We found substantial overlap in bilayer and monolayer properties. Increasing the temperature in bilayers produced similar effects as increasing the surface tension in monolayers. This information can be used for interpreting experimental data on model membranes.