Hydration and Nanoconfined Water: Insights from Computer Simulations

Subcell Biochem. 2015;71:161-87. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-19060-0_7.


The comprehension of the structure and behavior of water at interfaces and under nanoconfinement represents an issue of major concern in several central research areas like hydration, reaction dynamics and biology. From one side, water is known to play a dominant role in the structuring, the dynamics and the functionality of biological molecules, governing main processes like protein folding, protein binding and biological function. In turn, the same principles that rule biological organization at the molecular level are also operative for materials science processes that take place within a water environment, being responsible for the self-assembly of molecular structures to create synthetic supramolecular nanometrically-sized materials. Thus, the understanding of the principles of water hydration, including the development of a theory of hydrophobicity at the nanoscale, is imperative both from a fundamental and an applied standpoint. In this work we present some molecular dynamics studies of the structure and dynamics of water at different interfaces or confinement conditions, ranging from simple model hydrophobic interfaces with different geometrical constraints (in order to single out curvature effects), to self-assembled monolayers, proteins and phospholipid membranes. The tendency of the water molecules to sacrifice the lowest hydrogen bond (HB) coordination as possible at extended interfaces is revealed. This fact makes the first hydration layers to be highly oriented, in some situations even resembling the structure of hexagonal ice. A similar trend to maximize the number of HBs is shown to hold in cavity filling, with small subnanometric hydrophobic cavities remaining empty while larger cavities display an alternation of filled and dry states with a significant inner HB network. We also study interfaces with complex chemical and geometrical nature in order to determine how different conditions affect the local hydration properties. Thus, we show some results for protein hydration and, particularly, some preliminary studies on membrane hydration. Finally, calculations of a local hydrophobicity measure of relevance for binding and self-assembly are also presented. We then conclude with a few words of further emphasis on the relevance of this kind of knowledge to biology and to the design of new materials by highlighting the context-dependent and non-additive nature of different non-covalent interactions in an aqueous nanoenvironment, an issue that is usually greatly overlooked.

Keywords: Computer simulation; Confined water; Density fluctuations; Geometry; H-bonds; Hydration water; Hydrophobicity; Self assembled monolayers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Computer Simulation*
  • Nanotechnology*
  • Water / chemistry*


  • Water