Martin Girard and Tristan Bereau, Biophysical Journal (2020)

Regulating lipid components by the thermodynamics of membrane composition

Cell membranes mainly consist of lipid bilayers with an actively regulated composition. The underlying processes are still poorly understood, in particular, how the hundreds of components are controlled. Cholesterol has been found to correlate with phospholipid saturation for reasons that remain unclear. To better understand the link between cell membrane regulation and chemical composition, we establish a computational framework based on chemical reaction networks, resulting in multiple semigrand canonical ensembles. By running computer simulations, we show that regulating the chemical potential of lipid species is sufficient to reproduce the experimentally observed increase in acyl tail saturation with added cholesterol. Our model proposes a different picture of lipid regulation in which components can be regulated passively instead of actively. In this picture, phospholipid acyl tail composition naturally adapts to added molecules such as cholesterol or proteins. A comparison between regulated membranes with commonly studied ternary model membranes shows stark differences: for instance, correlation lengths and viscosities observed are independent of lipid chemical affinity.

See also New and Notable by Thomas R. Shaw and Sarah L. Veatch: The Membrane “Pull” That Balances Metabolism’s “Push” in Lipid Homeostasis