Pore formation in lipid membrane I: Continuous reversible trajectory from intact bilayer through hydrophobic defect to transversal pore
Lipid membranes serve as effective barriers allowing cells to maintain internal composition differing from that of extracellular medium. Membrane permeation, both natural and artificial, can take place via appearance of transversal pores. The rearrangements of lipids leading to pore formation in the intact membrane are not yet understood in details. We applied continuum elasticity theory to obtain continuous trajectory of pore formation and closure, and analyzed molecular dynamics trajectories of pre-formed pore reseal. We hypothesized that a transversal pore is preceded by a hydrophobic defect: intermediate structure spanning through the membrane, the side walls of which are partially aligned by lipid tails. This prediction was confirmed by our molecular dynamics simulations. Conversion of the hydrophobic defect into the hydrophilic pore required surmounting some energy barrier. A metastable state was found for the hydrophilic pore at the radius of a few nanometers. The dependence of the energy on radius was approximately quadratic for hydrophobic defect and small hydrophilic pore, while for large radii it depended on the radius linearly. The pore energy related to its perimeter, line tension, thus depends of the pore radius. Calculated values of the line tension for large pores were in quantitative agreement with available experimental data.