Delemotte L, Tarek M
J Membrane Biol 245 (9) 531-543 [2012-09-00; online 2012-05-30]
The permeability of cell membranes can be transiently increased following the application of external electric fields. Theoretical approaches such as molecular modeling provide a significant insight into the processes affecting, at the molecular level, the integrity of lipid cell membranes when these are subject to voltage gradients under similar conditions as those used in experiments. This article reports on the progress made so far using such simulations to model membrane-lipid bilayer-electroporation. We first describe the methods devised to perform in silico experiments of membranes subject to nanosecond, megavolt-per-meter pulsed electric fields and of membranes subject to charge imbalance, mimicking therefore the application of low-voltage, long-duration pulses. We show then that, at the molecular level, the two types of pulses produce similar effects: provided the TM voltage these pulses create are higher than a certain threshold, hydrophilic pores stabilized by the membrane lipid headgroups form within the nanosecond time scale across the lipid core. Similarly, when the pulses are switched off, the pores collapse (close) within similar time scales. It is shown that for similar TM voltages applied, both methods induce similar electric field distributions within the membrane core. The cascade of events following the application of the pulses, and taking place at the membrane, is a direct consequence of such an electric field distribution.