Membrane stiffness is modified by integral membrane proteins
The ease with which a cell membrane can bend and deform is important for a wide range of biological functions. Peripheral proteins that induce curvature in membranes (e.g. BAR domains) have been studied for a number of years. Little is known, however, about the effect of integral membrane proteins on the stiffness of a membrane (characterised by the bending rigidity, Kc). We demonstrate by computer simulation that adding integral membrane proteins at physiological densities alters the stiffness of the membrane. First we establish that the coarse-grained MARTINI forcefield is able to accurately reproduce the bending rigidity of a small patch of 1500 phosphatidyl choline lipids by comparing the calculated value to both experiment and an atomistic simulation of the same system. This enables us to simulate the dynamics of large (ca. 50000 lipids) patches of membrane using the MARTINI coarse-grained description. We find that altering the lipid composition changes the bending rigidity. Adding integral membrane proteins to lipid bilayers also changes the bending rigidity, whilst adding a simple peripheral membrane protein has no effect. Our results suggest that integral membrane proteins can have different effects, and in the case of the bacterial outer membrane protein, BtuB, the greater the density of protein, the larger the reduction in stiffness.