Membrane potential and electrostatics of phospholipid bilayers with asymmetric transmembrane distribution of anionic lipids

J Phys Chem B. 2008 Apr 17;112(15):4629-34. doi: 10.1021/jp8001993. Epub 2008 Mar 26.


It is well-established that native plasma membranes are characterized by an asymmetric distribution of charged (anionic) lipids across the membrane. To clarify how the asymmetry can affect membrane electrostatics, we have performed extensive atomic-scale molecular dynamics simulations of asymmetric lipid membranes composed of zwitterionic (phosphatidylcholine (PC) or phosphatidylethanolamine (PE)) and anionic (phosphatidylserine (PS)) leaflets. It turns out that the asymmetry in transmembrane distribution of anionic lipids gives rise to a nonzero potential difference between the two sides of the membrane. This potential arises from the difference in surface charges of the two leaflets. The magnitude of the intrinsic membrane potential was found to be 238 mV and 198 mV for PS/PC and PS/PE membranes, respectively. Remarkably, this potential is of the same sign as the membrane potential in cells. Our findings, being in reasonable agreement with available experimental data, lend support to the idea that the transmembrane lipid asymmetry typical of most living cells contributes to the membrane potential.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anions / chemistry
  • Computer Simulation
  • Lipid Bilayers / chemistry*
  • Lipids / chemistry*
  • Membranes, Artificial*
  • Models, Chemical
  • Phospholipids / chemistry*
  • Static Electricity
  • Surface Properties


  • Anions
  • Lipid Bilayers
  • Lipids
  • Membranes, Artificial
  • Phospholipids