Modulation of the spontaneous curvature and bending rigidity of lipid membranes by interfacially adsorbed amphipathic peptides

Assaf Zemel*, Avinoam Ben-Shaul, Sylvio May

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Scopus citations


Amphipathic α-helical peptides are often ascribed an ability to induce curvature stress in lipid membranes. This may lead directly to a bending deformation of the host membrane, or it may promote the formation of defects that involve highly curved lipid layers present in membrane pores, fusion intermediates, and solubilized peptide - micelle complexes. The driving force is the same in all cases: peptides induce a spontaneous curvature in the host lipid layer, the sign of which depends sensitively on the peptide's structural properties. We provide a quantitative account for this observation on the basis of a molecular-level method. To this end, we consider a lipid membrane with peptides interfacially adsorbed onto one leaflet at high peptide-to-lipid ratio. The peptides are modeled generically as rigid cylinders that interact with the host membrane through a perturbation of the conformational properties of the lipid chains. Through the use of a molecular-level chain packing theory, we calculate the elastic properties, that is, the spontaneous curvature and bending stiffness, of the peptide-decorated lipid membrane as a function of the peptide's insertion depth. We find a positive spontaneous curvature (preferred bending of the membrane away from the peptide) for small penetration depths of the peptide. At a penetration depth roughly equal to half-insertion into the hydrocarbon core, the spontaneous curvature changes sign, implying negative spontaneous curvature (preferred bending of the membrane toward the peptide) for large penetration depths. Despite thinning of the membrane upon peptide insertion, we find an increase in the bending stiffness. We discuss these findings in terms of how the peptide induces elastic stress.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)6988-6996
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Physical Chemistry B
Issue number23
StatePublished - 12 Jun 2008


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