Constant electric field simulations of the membrane potential illustrated with simple systems

Biochim Biophys Acta. 2012 Feb;1818(2):294-302. doi: 10.1016/j.bbamem.2011.09.030. Epub 2011 Oct 5.


Advances in modern computational methods and technology make it possible to carry out extensive molecular dynamics simulations of complex membrane proteins based on detailed atomic models. The ultimate goal of such detailed simulations is to produce trajectories in which the behavior of the system is as realistic as possible. A critical aspect that requires consideration in the case of biological membrane systems is the existence of a net electric potential difference across the membrane. For meaningful computations, it is important to have well validated methodologies for incorporating the latter in molecular dynamics simulations. A widely used treatment of the membrane potential in molecular dynamics consists of applying an external uniform electric field E perpendicular to the membrane. The field acts on all charged particles throughout the simulated system, and the resulting applied membrane potential V is equal to the applied electric field times the length of the periodic cell in the direction perpendicular to the membrane. A series of test simulations based on simple membrane-slab models are carried out to clarify the consequences of the applied field. These illustrative tests demonstrate that the constant-field method is a simple and valid approach for accounting for the membrane potential in molecular dynamics studies of biomolecular systems. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Membrane protein structure and function.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Membrane / chemistry*
  • Cell Membrane / physiology
  • Electric Stimulation / methods*
  • Humans
  • Membrane Potentials*
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Dynamics Simulation