Under the influence of alcohol: The effect of ethanol and methanol on lipid bilayers

M. Patra, E. Salonen, E. Terama, I. Vattulainen, R. Faller, B.W. Lee, J.M. Holopainen, M.E.J. Karttunen

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    260 Citations (Scopus)


    Extensive microscopic molecular dynamics simulations have been performed to study the effects of short-chain alcohols, methanol and ethanol, on two different fully hydrated lipid bilayer systems (POPC and DPPC) in the fluid phase at 323 K. It is found that ethanol has a stronger effect on the structural properties of the membranes. In particular, the bilayers become more fluid and permeable: ethanol molecules are able to penetrate through the membrane in typical timescales of ~200 ns, whereas for methanol that timescale is considerably longer, at least of the order of microseconds. A closer examination exposes a number of effects due to ethanol. Hydrogen-bonding analysis reveals that a large fraction of ethanols is involved in hydrogen bonds with lipids. This in turn is intimately coupled to the ordering of hydrocarbon chains: we find that binding to an ethanol decreases the order of the chains. We have also determined the dependence of lipid-chain ordering on ethanol concentration and found that to be nonmonotonous. Overall, we find good agreement with NMR and micropipette studies.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1121-1135
    JournalBiophysical Journal
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 2006


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