Insertion of Neurotransmitters into a Lipid Bilayer Membrane and Its Implication on Membrane Stability: A Molecular Dynamics Study. ChemPhysChem. 2017

The signaling molecules in neurons, called neurotransmitters, play an essential role in the transportation of neural signals, during which the neurotransmitters interact with not only specific receptors, but also cytomembranes, such as synaptic vesicle
membranes and postsynaptic membranes. Through extensive molecular dynamics simulations, the atomic-scale insertion dynamics of typical neurotransmitters, including methionine enkephalin (ME), leucine enkephalin (LE), dopamine (DA), acetylcholine (ACh), and aspartic acid (ASP), into lipid bilayers is investigated. The results show that the first three neurotransmitters (ME, LE, and DA) are able to diffuse freely into both 1-palmitoyl-2-oleoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine (POPC) and 1-palmitoyl-2-oleoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphoethanolamine (POPE) membranes, and are guided by the aromatic residues Tyr and Phe. Only a limited number of these neurotransmitters are allowed to penetrate into the membrane, which suggests an intrinsic mechanism by which the membrane is protected from being destroyed by excessive inserted neurotransmitters. After spontaneous insertion, the neurotransmitters disturb the surrounding phospholipids in the membrane, as indicated by the altered distribution of components in lipid leaflets and the disordered lipid tails. In contrast, the last two neurotransmitters (ACh and ASP) cannot enter the membrane, but instead always diffuse freely in solution. These findings provide an understanding at the atomic level of how neurotransmitters interact with the surrounding cytomembrane, as well as their impact on membrane behavior.

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