Control of Membrane Fusion Mechanism by Lipid Composition: Predictions from Ensemble Molecular Dynamics.

P. M. Kasson and V. S. Pande. PLoS Computational Biology (2007)

SUMMARY: Here, we use molecular molecular-dynamics simulations of lipid vesicle fusion under different lipid compositions to generate a more detailed explanation for how composition controls membrane fusion. We predict that lipid composition affects both the initial process of forming a contact stalk between two vesicles and the formation of a metastable hemifused intermediate. These two roles act in concert to change both the rate of fusion and the level of detectable fusion intermediates. We also present initial results on fusion of vesicles at different membrane curvatures. Recent experimental results suggest that the creation of highly curved membranes is important to fusion of synaptic vesicles. Our simulations cover a curvature regime similar to these experimental systems. In combination with previous results, we predict that the effect of lipid composition on fusion is general across different membrane curvatures, but that the rate of fusion is controlled by both composition and curvature.

ABSTRACT: Membrane fusion is critical to biological processes such as viral infection, endocrine hormone secretion, and neurotransmission, yet the precise mechanistic details of the fusion process remain unknown. Current experimental and computational model systems approximate the complex physiological membrane environment for fusion using one or a few protein and lipid species. Here, we report results of a computational model system for fusion in which the ratio of lipid components was systematically varied, using thousands of simulations of up to a microsecond in length to predict the effects of lipid composition on both fusion kinetics and mechanism. In our simulations, increased phosphatidylcholine content in vesicles causes increased activation energies for formation of the initial stalk-like intermediate for fusion and of hemifusion intermediates, in accordance with previous continuum-mechanics theoretical treatments. We also use our large simulation dataset to quantitatively compare the mechanism by which vesicles fuse at different lipid compositions, showing a significant difference in fusion kinetics and mechanism at different compositions simulated. As physiological membranes have different compositions in the inner and outer leaflets, we examine the effect of such asymmetry, as well as the effect of membrane curvature on fusion. These predicted effects of lipid composition on fusion mechanism both underscore the way in which experimental model system construction may affect the observed mechanism of fusion and illustrate a potential mechanism for cellular regulation of the fusion process by altering membrane composition.