A Comparison of Coarse-Grained and Continuum Models for Membrane Bending in Lipid Bilayer Fusion Pores
To establish the validity of continuum mechanics models quantitatively for the analysis of membrane remodeling processes, we compare the shape and energies of the membrane fusion pore predicted by coarse-grained (MARTINI) and continuum mechanics models. The results at these distinct levels of resolution give surprisingly consistent descriptions for the shape of the fusion pore, and the deviation between the continuum and coarse-grained models becomes notable only when the radius of curvature approaches the thickness of a monolayer. Although slow relaxation beyond microseconds is observed in different perturbative simulations, the key structural features (e.g., dimension and shape of the fusion pore near the pore center) are consistent among independent simulations. These observations provide solid support for the use of coarse-grained and continuum models in the analysis of membrane remodeling. The combined coarse-grained and continuum analysis confirms the recent prediction of continuum models that the fusion pore is a metastable structure and that its optimal shape is neither toroidal nor catenoidal. Moreover, our results help reveal a new, to our knowledge, bowing feature in which the bilayers close to the pore axis separate more from one another than those at greater distances from the pore axis; bowing helps reduce the curvature and therefore stabilizes the fusion pore structure. The spread of the bilayer deformations over distances of hundreds of nanometers and the substantial reduction in energy of fusion pore formation provided by this spread indicate that membrane fusion can be enhanced by allowing a larger area of membrane to participate and be deformed.