Lipid nanodiscs are macromolecular assemblies, where a scaffold protein is wrapped around a nanosized disc of a lipid bilayer, thus protecting the hydrocarbon chains at the disc edges from unfavorable interactions with water. These nanostructures have numerous applications in, e.g., nanotechnology and pharmaceutics, and in investigations of membrane proteins. Here, we present results based on atomistic molecular dynamics simulations combined with electron paramagnetic spectroscopy measurements on the structure and dynamics of lipids in single-component nanodiscs. Our data highlight the existence of three distinctly different lipid fractions: central lipids residing in the center of a nanodisc, boundary lipids in direct contact with a scaffold protein, and intermediate lipids between these two regions. The central lipids are highly ordered and characterized by slow diffusion. In this part of the nanodisc, the membrane is the thickest and characterized by a gel-like or liquid-ordered phase, having features common to cholesterol-rich membranes. The boundary lipids in direct contact with the scaffold protein turned out to be less ordered and characterized by faster diffusion, and they remained in the liquid-disordered phase even at temperatures that were somewhat below the main phase transition temperature (Tm). The enthalpies associated with the central-boundary and central-intermediate transitions were similar to those observed for lipids going through the main phase transition. Overall, the study reveals lipid nanodiscs to be characterized by a complex internal structure, which is expected to influence membrane proteins placed in nanodiscs.
- Electron paramagnetic resonance
- Lipids ordering
- Membrane proteins
- Molecular dynamics simulations