Small scale membrane mechanics

P. Rangamani, A. Benjamini, A. Agrawal, B. Smit, D. Steigmann, and G. Oster, Small scale membrane mechanics Biomech Model Mechanobiol, 1 (2013)


Large scale changes to lipid bilayer shapes are well represented by the Helfrich model. However, there are membrane processes that take place at smaller length scales that this model cannot address. In this work, we present a one-dimensional continuum model that captures the mechanics of the lipid bilayer membrane at the length scale of the lipids themselves. The model is developed using the Cosserat theory of surfaces with lipid orientation, or ‘tilt’, as the fundamental degree of freedom. The Helfrich model can be recovered as a special case when the curvatures are small and the lipid tilt is everywhere zero. We use the tilt model to study local membrane deformations in response to a protein inclusion. Parameter estimates and boundary conditions are obtained from a coarse-grained molecular model using dissipative particle dynamics (DPD) to capture the same phenomenon. The continuum model is able to reproduce the membrane bending, stretch and lipid tilt as seen in the DPD model. The lipid tilt angle relaxes to the bulk tilt angle within 5–6 nm from the protein inclusion. Importantly, for large tilt gradients induced by the proteins, the tilt energy contribution is larger than the bending energy contribution. Thus, the continuum model of tilt accurately captures behaviors at length scales shorter than the membrane thickness.

© Berend Smit 2013