Physical Chemistry

Charged small molecule binding to membranes in MD simulations evaluated against NMR experiments



Interactions of charged molecules with biomembranes regulate many of their biological activities, but their binding affinities to lipid bilayers are difficult to measure experimentally and model theoretically. Classical molecular dynamics (MD) simulations have the potential to capture the complex interactions determining how charged biomolecules interact with membranes, but systematic overbinding of sodium and calcium cations in standard MD simulations raises the question of how accurately force fields capture the interactions between lipid membranes and charged biomolecules. Here, we evaluate the binding of positively charged small molecules, etidocaine and tetraphenylphosphonium (TPP), to a POPC lipid bilayer using the changes in lipid headgroup order parameters. We observed that these molecules behave oppositely to calcium and sodium ions when binding to membranes: (i) their binding affinities are not overestimated by standard force field parameters, (ii) implicit inclusion of electronic polarizability increases their binding affinity, and (iii) they penetrate into the hydrophobic membrane core. Our results can be explained by distinct binding mechanisms of charged small molecules with hydrophobic moieties and monoatomic ions. The binding of the former is driven by hydrophobic effects, while the latter has direct electrostatic interactions with lipids. In addition to elucidating how different kinds of charged biomolecules bind to membranes, we deliver tools for further development of MD simulation parameters and methodology.

Version notes

Results and discussion section and figures have been clarified.


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Supplementary material

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Supporting Information for: Charged small molecule binding to membranes in MD simulations evaluated against NMR experiments
Simulation and analysis details, equilibration of the simulations, and supporting results.