Membrane fusion often exhibits slow dynamics in electrophysiological experiments, involving prespike foot and fusion pore-flickering, but the structural basis of such phenomena remains unclear. Hemifusion intermediates have been implicated in the early phase of membrane fusion. To elucidate the dynamics of formation of membrane defects and pores within the hemifusion diaphragm (HD), atomistic and coarse-grained models of hemifusion intermediates were constructed using dipalmitoylphosphatidylcholine or dioleoylphosphatidylcholine membranes. The work necessary to displace a lipid molecule to the hydrophobic core of the bilayer was measured. For a lipid within the HD with radius of 4 nm, the work was ∼80 kJ/mol, similar to that in a planar bilayer. The work was much less (∼40 kJ/mol) when the HD was surrounded by a steep stalk, i.e., stalk wings forming a large angle at the junction of three bilayers. In the latter case, the lipid displacement engendered formation of a pore contacting the HD rim. The work was similarly small (40 kJ/mol) for a small HD of 1.5 nm radius, where a pore formed and grew rapidly, quickly generating a toroidal structure (<40 ns). Combining the steep stalk and the small HD decreased the work further, although quantitative analysis was difficult because the latter system was not in a stable equilibrium state. Results suggest that fine tuning of fusion dynamics requires strict control of the HD size and the angle between the expanded stalk and HD. In additional free simulations, the steep stalk facilitated widening of a preformed pore contacting the HD rim. © 2013 Biophysical Society.
Nishizawa, M., & Nishizawa, K. (2013). Molecular dynamics simulation analysis of membrane defects and pore propensity of hemifusion diaphragms. Biophysical Journal, 104(5), 1038–1048. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bpj.2013.01.022