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Differential Effects of Cholesterol, Ergosterol and Lanosterol on a Dipalmitoyl Phosphatidylcholine Membrane:  A Molecular Dynamics Simulation Study

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journal contribution
posted on 22.02.2007, 00:00 by Zoe Cournia, G. Matthias Ullmann, Jeremy C. Smith
Lipid raft/domain formation may arise as a result of the effects of specific sterols on the physical properties of membranes. Here, using molecular dynamics simulation, we examine the effects of three closely-related sterols, ergosterol, cholesterol, and lanosterol, at a biologically relevant concentration (40 mol %) on the structural properties of a model dipalmitoyl phosphatidylcholine (DPPC) membrane at 309 and 323 K. All three sterols are found to order the DPPC acyl tails and condense the membrane relative to the DPPC liquid-phase membrane, but each one does this to a significantly different degree. The smooth α-face of ergosterol, together with the presence of tail unsaturation in this sterol, leads to closer interaction of ergosterol with the lipids and closer packing of the lipids with each other, so ergosterol has a higher condensing effect on the membrane, as reflected by the area per lipid. Moreover, ergosterol induces a higher proportion of trans lipid conformers, a thicker membrane, and higher lipid order parameters and is aligned more closely with the membrane normal. Ergosterol also positions itself closer to the bilayer/water interface. In contrast, the rough α-face of lanosterol leads to a less close interaction of the steroid ring system with the phospholipid acyl chains, and so lanosterol orders, straightens, and packs the lipid acyl chains less well and is less closely aligned with the membrane normal. Furthermore, lanosterol lies closer to the relatively disordered membrane center than do the other sterols. The behavior of cholesterol in all the above respects is intermediate between that of lanosterol and ergosterol. The findings here may explain why ergosterol is the most efficient of the three sterols at promoting the liquid-ordered phase and lipid domain formation and may also furnish part of the explanation as to why cholesterol is evolutionarily preferred over lanosterol in higher-vertebrate plasma membranes.