Lipid Configurations from Molecular Dynamics Simulations

Weria Pezeshkian, Himanshu Khandelia, Derek Marsh

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The extent to which current force fields faithfully reproduce conformational properties of lipids in bilayer membranes, and whether these reflect the structural principles established for phospholipids in bilayer crystals, are central to biomembrane simulations. We determine the distribution of dihedral angles in palmitoyl-oleoyl phosphatidylcholine from molecular dynamics simulations of hydrated fluid bilayer membranes. We compare results from the widely used lipid force field of Berger et al. with those from the most recent C36 release of the CHARMM force field for lipids. Only the CHARMM force field produces the chain inequivalence with sn-1 as leading chain that is characteristic of glycerolipid packing in fluid bilayers. The exposure and high partial charge of the backbone carbonyls in Berger lipids leads to artifactual binding of Na+ ions reported in the literature. Both force fields predict coupled, near-symmetrical distributions of headgroup dihedral angles, which is compatible with models of interconverting mirror-image conformations used originally to interpret NMR order parameters. The Berger force field produces rotamer populations that correspond to the headgroup conformation found in a phosphatidylcholine lipid bilayer crystal, whereas CHARMM36 rotamer populations are closer to the more relaxed crystal conformations of phosphatidylethanolamine and glycerophosphocholine. CHARMM36 alone predicts the correct relative signs of the time-average headgroup order parameters, and reasonably reproduces the full range of NMR data from the phosphate diester to the choline methyls. There is strong motivation to seek further experimental criteria for verifying predicted conformational distributions in the choline headgroup, including the 31P chemical shift anisotropy and 14N and CD3 NMR quadrupole splittings.

Original languageEnglish
JournalBiophysical Journal
Issue number8
Pages (from-to)1895-1907
Publication statusPublished - 24. Apr 2018


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