Hydrophilic pores are formed in peptide free lipid bilayers under mechanical stress. It has been proposed that the transport of ionic species across such membranes is largely determined by the existence of such meta-stable hydrophilic pores. To study the properties of these structures and understand the mechanism by which pore expansion leads to membrane rupture, a series of molecular dynamics simulations of a dipalmitoylphosphatidylcholine (DPPC) bilayer have been conducted. The system was simulated in two different states; first, as a bilayer containing a meta-stable pore and second, as an equilibrated bilayer without a pore. Surface tension in both cases was applied to study the formation and stability of hydrophilic pores inside the bilayers. It is observed that below a critical threshold tension of ~38 mN/m the pores are stabilized. The minimum radius at which a pore can be stabilized is 0.7 nm. Based on the critical threshold tension the line tension of the bilayer was estimated to be ~3 x 10-11 N, in good agreement with experimental measurements. The flux of water molecules through these stabilized pores was analyzed, and the structure and size of the pores characterized. When the lateral pressure exceeds the threshold tension, the pores become unstable and start to expand causing the rupture of the membrane. In the simulations the mechanical threshold tension necessary to cause rupture of the membrane on a nanosecond timescale is much higher in the case of the equilibrated bilayers, as compared with membranes containing preexisting pores.
Source: Hari Leontiadou, Alan E. Mark and Siewert J. Marrink. Biophysical Journal 86:2156-2164 (2004).