Investigating the structural properties of hydrophobic solvent-rich lipid bilayers
In vitro reconstitutions of lipid membranes have proven to be an indispensable tool to rationalize their molecular complexity and to understand their role in countless cellular processes. However, amongst the various techniques used to reconstitute lipid bilayers in vitro, several approaches are not solvent-free, but rather contain residual hydrophobic solvents in between the two bilayer leaflets, generally as a consequence of the procedure used to generate the bilayer. To what extent the presence of these hydrophobic solvents modifies bilayer properties with respect to native, solvent-free, conditions remains an open question that has important implications for the appropriate interpretation of numerous experimental observations. Here, we thorouhgly characterize hydrophobic solvent-rich lipid bilayers using atomistic molecular dynamics simulations. Our data indicate that while the presence of hydrophobic solvents at high concentrations, such as hexadecane, has a significant effect on membrane thickness, their effects on surface properties, membrane order and lateral stress are quite moderate. Our results corroborate the validity of in vitro approaches as model systems for the investigations of biological membranes but raise a few cautionary aspects that must be considered when investigating specific membrane properties.
- This article is part of the themed collection: 2021 Soft Matter Emerging Investigators