Cell membranes contain multiple lipid and protein components having heterogeneous in-plane (lateral) distribution. Nanoscale rafts are believed to play an important functional role, but their phase state—domains of coexisting phases or composition fluctuations—is unknown. As a step toward understanding lateral organization of cell membranes, we investigate the difference between nanoscale domains of coexisting phases and composition fluctuations in lipid bilayers. We simulate model lipid bilayers with the MARTINI coarse-grained force field on length scales of tens of nanometers and timescales of tens of microseconds. We use a binary and a ternary mixture: a saturated and an unsaturated lipid, or a saturated lipid, an unsaturated lipid, and cholesterol, respectively. In these mixtures, the phase behavior can be tuned from a mixed state to a coexistence of a liquid-crystalline and a gel, or a liquid-ordered and a liquid-disordered phase. Transition from a two-phase to a one-phase state is achieved by raising the temperature and adding a hybrid lipid (with a saturated and an unsaturated chain). We analyze the evolution of bilayer properties along this transition: domains of two phases transform to fluctuations with local ordering and compositional demixing. Nanoscale domains and fluctuations differ in several properties, including interleaflet overlap and boundary length. Hybrid lipids show no enrichment at the boundary, but decrease the difference between the coexisting phases by ordering the disordered phase, which could explain their role in cell membranes.
Baoukina, S., Rozmanov, D., & Tieleman, D. P. (2017). Composition Fluctuations in Lipid Bilayers. Biophysical Journal, 113(12), 2750–2761. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bpj.2017.10.009