Polymer Engineering Faculty Research

Adhesion and hemifusion of cytoplasmic myelin lipid membranes are highly dependent on the lipid composition

Younjin Min, The University of Akron


We report the effects of calcium ions on the adhesion and hemifusion mechanisms of model supported myelin lipid bilayer membranes of differing lipid composition. As in our previous studies Min et al. [[1] and [2]], the lipid compositions used mimic “healthy” and “diseased-like” (experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis, EAE) membranes. Our results show that the interaction forces as a function of membrane separation distance are well described by a generic model that also (and in particular) includes the hydrophobic interaction arising from the hydrophobically exposed (interior) parts of the bilayers. The model is able to capture the mechanical instability that triggers the onset of the hemifusion event, and highlights the primary role of the hydrophobic interaction in membrane fusion. The effects of lipid composition on the fusion mechanism, and the adhesion forces between myelin lipid bilayers, can be summarized as follows: in calcium-free buffer, healthy membranes do not present any signs of adhesion or hemifusion, while diseased membranes hemifuse easily. Addition of 2 mM calcium favors adhesion and hemifusion of the membranes independently of their composition, but the mechanisms involved in the two processes were different: healthy bilayers systematically presented stronger adhesion forces and lower energy barriers to fusion compared to diseased bilayers. These results are of particular relevance for understanding lesion development (demyelination, swelling, vacuolization and/or vesiculation) in myelin associated diseases such as multiple sclerosis and its relationship to lipid domain formation in myelin membranes.