Nontrivial Behavior of Water in the Vicinity and Inside Lipid Bilayers as Probed by Molecular Dynamics Simulations
The atomic-scale diffusion of water in the presence of several lipid bilayers mimicking biomembranes is characterized via unconstrained molecular dynamics (MD) simulations. Although the overall water dynamics corresponds well to literature data – namely, the efficient braking near polar head groups of lipids - a number of interesting and biologically relevant details observed in this work have not been sufficiently discussed so far. For instance, the fact that waters “sense” the membrane unexpectedly early – before water density begins to decrease. In this “transitional zone” the velocity distributions of water and their H-bonding patterns deviate from those in the bulk solution. The boundaries of this zone are well preserved even despite the local (<1 nm size) perturbation of the lipid bilayer, thus indicating a decoupling of the surface and bulk dynamics of water. This is in excellent agreement with recent experimental data. Near the membrane surface, water movement becomes anisotropic – solvent molecules preferentially move outward the bilayer. Deep in the membrane interior, the velocities can even exceed those in the bulk solvent and undergo large-scale fluctuations. The analysis of MD trajectories of individual waters in the middle part of the acyl chain region of lipids reveals a number of interesting rare phenomena, such as the fast (c.a. 50 ps) breakthrough across the membrane or long-time (up to 750 ps) “roaming” between lipid leaflets. The analysis of these events was accomplished to delineate the mechanisms of spontaneous water permeation inside the hydrophobic membrane core. It was shown that such nontrivial dynamics of water in an “alien” environment is driven by the dynamic heterogeneities of the local bilayer structure and the formation of transient atomic-scale “defects” in it. The picture observed in lipid bilayers is drastically different from that in a primitive membrane mimic – a hydrated cyclohexane slab. The possible biological impact of such phenomena in equilibrated lipid bilayers is discussed.