Treatment of ionic strength in biomolecular simulations of charged lipid bilayers

Diogo Vila-Viçosa, Vitor H. Teixeira, Hugo A F Santos, António M. Baptista, Miguel Machuqueiro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


Biological membranes are complex systems that have recently attracted a significant scientific interest. Due to the presence of many different anionic lipids, these membranes are usually negatively charged and sensitive to pH. The protonation states of lipids and the ion distribution close to the bilayer are two of the main challenges in biomolecular simulations of these systems. These two problems have been circumvented by using ionized (deprotonated) anionic lipids and enough counterions to preserve the electroneutrality. In this work, we propose a method based on the Poisson-Boltzmann equation to estimate the counterion and co-ion concentration close to a lipid bilayer that avoids the need for neutrality at this microscopic level. The estimated number of ions was tested in molecular dynamics simulations of a 25% DMPA/DMPC lipid bilayer at different ionization levels. Our results show that the system neutralization represents an overestimation of the number of counterions. Consequently, the resulting lipid bilayer becomes too ordered and practically insensitive to ionization. On the other hand, our proposed approach is able to correctly model the ionization dependent isothermal phase transition of the bilayer observed experimentally. Furthermore, our approach is not too computationally expensive and can easily be used to model diverse charged biomolecular systems in molecular dynamics simulations. (Chemical Equation Presented).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5483-5492
Number of pages10
JournalJournal Of Chemical Theory And Computation
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 9 Dec 2014


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