Interactions of liquid crystal-forming molecules with phospholipid bilayers studied by molecular dynamics simulations.
Recent experiments have shown that liquid crystals can be used to image mammalian cell membranes and to amplify structural reorganization in phospholipid-laden liquid crystal-aqueous interfaces. In this work, molecular dynamics simulations were employed to explore the interactions between commonly used liquid crystal-forming molecules and phospholipid bilayers. In particular, umbrella sampling was used to obtain the potential of mean force of 4-cyano-4'-pentylbiphenyl (5CB) and 4'-(3,4-difluor-phenyl)-4-pentyl-bicylohexyl (5CF) molecules partitioning into a dipalmitoylphosphatidylcholine bilayer. In addition, results of simulations are presented for systems consisting of a fully hydrated bilayer with 5CB or 5CF molecules at the lowest (4.5 mol %) and highest (20 mol %) concentrations used in recent laboratory experiments. It is found that mesogens preferentially partition from the aqueous phase into the membrane; the potential of mean force exhibits highly favorable free energy differences for partitioning (-18 k(B)T for 5CB and -26 k(B)T for 5CF). The location and orientation of mesogens associated with the most stable free energies in umbrella sampling simulations of dilute systems were found to be consistent with those observed in liquid-crystal-rich bilayers. It is found that the presence of mesogens in the bilayer enhances the order of lipid acyl tails, and changes the spatial and orientational arrangement of lipid headgroup atoms. These effects are more pronounced at higher liquid-crystal concentrations. In comparing the behavior of 5CB and 5CF, a stronger spatial correlation (i.e., possibly leading to aggregation) is observed between 5CB molecules within a bilayer than between 5CF molecules. Also, the range of molecular orientations and positions along the bilayer normal is larger for 5CB molecules. At the same time, 5CF molecules were found to bind more strongly to lipid headgroups, thereby slowing the lateral motion of lipid molecules.