Interaction of salicylate and a terpenoid plant extract with model membranes: Reconciling experiments and simulations

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  • Himanshu Khandelia
  • Sarah Witzke
  • Ole G. Mouritsen

We investigate the effects of two structurally similar small cyclic molecules: salicylic acid and perillic acid on a zwitterionic model lipid bilayer, and show that both molecules might have biological activity related to membrane thinning. Salicylic acid is a nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drug, some of the pharmacological properties of which arise from its interaction with the lipid bilayer component of the plasma membrane. Prior simulations show that salicylate orders zwitterionic lipid membranes. However, this is in conflict with Raman scattering and vesicle fluctuation analysis data, which suggest the opposite. We show using extensive molecular dynamics simulations, cumulatively >2.5 μs, that salicylic acid indeed disorders membranes with concomitant membrane thinning and that the conflict arose because prior simulations suffered from artifacts related to the sodium-ion induced condensation of zwitterionic lipids modeled by the Berger force field. Perillic acid is a terpenoid plant extract that has antiinfective and anticancer properties, and is extensively used in eastern medicine. We found that perillic acid causes large-scale membrane thinning and could therefore exert its antimicrobial properties via a membrane-lytic mechanism reminiscent of antimicrobial peptides. Being more amphipathic, perillic acid is more potent in disrupting lipid headgroup packing, and significantly modifies headgroup dipole orientation. Like salicylate, the membrane thinning effect of perillic acid is masked by the presence of sodium ions. As an alternative to sodium cations, we advocate the straightforward solution of using larger countercations like potassium or tetra-methyl-ammonium that will maintain electroneutrality but not interact strongly with, and thus not condense, the lipid bilayer.

Original languageEnglish
JournalBiophysical Journal
Issue number12
Pages (from-to)3887-3894
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec 2010

ID: 230976026