Structure of docosahexaenoic acid-containing phospholipid bilayers as studied by 2H NMR and molecular dynamics simulations

Thomas Huber, Kannan Rajamoorthi, Volker F. Kurze, Klaus Beyer, Michael F. Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

134 Scopus citations


Polyunsaturated phospholipids are known to be important with regard to the biological functions of essential fatty acids, for example, involving neural tissues such as the brain and retina. Here we have employed two complementary structural methods for the study of polyunsaturated bilayer lipids, viz. deuterium (2H) NMR spectroscopy and molecular dynamics (MD) computer simulations. Our research constitutes one of the first applications of all-atom MD simulations to polyunsaturated lipids containing docosahexaenoic acid (DHA; 22:6 cis-Δ4,7,10,13,16,19). Structural features of the highly unsaturated, mixedchain phospholipid, 1-palmitoyl-2-docosahexaenoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine (PDPC), have been studied in the liquid-crystalline (Lα) state and compared to the less unsaturated homolog, 1-palmitoyl-2-oleoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine (POPC). The 2H NMR spectra of polyunsaturated bilayers are dramatically different from those of less unsaturated phospholipid bilayers. We show how use of MD simulations can aid in interpreting the complex 2H NMR spectra of polyunsaturated bilayers, in conjunction with electron density profiles determined from small-angle X-ray diffraction studies. This work clearly demonstrates preferred helical and angle-iron conformations of the polyunsaturated chains in liquid-crystalline bilayers, which favor chain extension while maintaining bilayer flexibility. The presence of relatively long, extended fatty acyl chains may be important for solvating the hydrophobic surfaces of integral membrane proteins, such as rhodopsin. In addition, the polyallylic DHA chains have a tendency to adopt back-bended (hairpin-like) structures, which increase the interfacial area per lipid. Finally, the material properties have been analyzed in terms of the response of the bilayer to mechanical stress. Simulated bilayers of phospholipids containing docosahexaenoic acid were less sensitive to the applied surface tension than were saturated phospholipids, possibly implying a decrease in membrane elasticity (area elastic modulus, bending rigidity). The above features distinguish DHA-containing lipids from saturated or monounsaturated lipids and may be important for their biological modes of action.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)298-309
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of the American Chemical Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 16 2002

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Catalysis
  • General Chemistry
  • Biochemistry
  • Colloid and Surface Chemistry


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