Cholesterol Effect on Water Permeability through DPPC and PSM Lipid Bilayers: A Molecular Dynamics Study

Hiroaki Saito and Wataru Shinoda

J. Phys. Chem. B, 115, 15241-15250 (2011).

Water permeability of two different lipid bilayers of dipalmitoylphosphatidylcholine (DPPC) and palmitoylsphingomyelin (PSM) in the absence and presence of cholesterol (0 - 50 mol %) have been studied by molecular dynamics simulations to elucidate the molecular mechanism of the reduction in water leakage across the membranes by the addition of cholesterol. An enhanced free energy barrier was observed in these membranes with increased cholesterol concentration, and this was explained by the reduced cavity density around the cholesterol in the hydrophobic membrane core. There was an increase of trans conformers in the hydrophobic lipid chains adjacent to the cholesterol, which reduced the cavity density. The enhanced free energy barrier was found to be the main reason to reduce the water permeability with increased cholesterol concentration. At low cholesterol concentrations the PSM bilayer exhibited a higher free energy barrier than the DPPC bilayer for water permeation, while at greater than 30 mol % of cholesterol the difference became minor. This tendency for the PSM and DPPC bilayers to resemble each other at higher cholesterol concentrations was similar to commonly observed trends in several structural properties, such as order parameters, cross-sectional area per molecule, and cavity density profiles in the hydrophobic regions of bilayer membranes. These results demonstrate that DPPC and PSM bilayers with high cholesterol contents possess similar physical properties, which suggests that the solubility of cholesterol in these lipid bilayers has importance for an understanding of multicomponent lipid membranes with cholesterol.