Molecular Dynamics Simulations of Small Molecule Permeation Through Lipid Membranes
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Passive permeation through biological membranes is an important mechanism for transporting molecules and regulating the cellular content. Studying and understanding passive permeation is also extremely relevant to many industrial applications, including drug design and nanotechnology. In vivo membranes typically consist of mixtures of lamellar and nonlamellar lipids. Lamellar lipids are characterised by their tendency to form lamellar bilayer phases, which are predominant in biology. Nonlamellar lipids, when isolated, instead form non-bilayer structures such as inverse hexagonal phases. While mixed lamellar/nonlamellar lipid membranes tend to adopt the ubiquitous bilayer structure, the presence of nonlamellar lipids is known to have profound effects on key membrane properties, such as internal distributions of stress and elastic properties. This dissertation examines permeation through lamellar and nonlamellar lipid membranes by utilising atomistic molecular dynamics simulations in conjunction with two di erent methods, the z-constraint and the z-restraint, in order to obtain transfer free energy profiles, diffusion profiles and permeation coefficients. An assessment of these methods is performed in search for the optimal, with the goal to create an automated, accurate and robust permeation study framework. Part of the dissertation involves the creation of the corresponding software. Furthermore, this work examines the effect of changing the lamellar vs. nonlamellar lipid composition on the passive permeation mechanism of a series of 13 small molecules and drugs. These nonlamellar lipids are known to affect the lateral pressure distribution inside the membranes. This work investigates the hypothesis that the differences in lateral pressure should increase the resistance to permeation. The results indicate that, upon addition of nonlamellar lipids, permeation is hindered for small molecules but is facilitated for the largest. All results are in agreement with previous experimental and computational studies. This work represents an advancement towards the development of more realistic in silico permeability assays, which may have a substantial future impact in the area of rational drug design.
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