Interactions of Cationic Peptides and Ions with Negatively Charged Lipid Bilayers
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In this thesis we study the interactions of ions and cationic peptides with a negatively charged lipid bilayer in an ionic solution where the electrostatic interactions are screened. <br /><br /> We first examine the problem of charge renormalization and inversion of a highly charged bilayer with low dielectric constant. To be specific, we consider an asymmetrically charged lipid bilayer, in which only one layer is negatively charged. In particular, we study how dielectric discontinuities and charge correlations among lipid charges and condensed counterions influence the effective charge of the surface. When counterions are monovalent, e. g. , Na<sup>+</sup>, our mean-field approach implies that dielectric discontinuities can enhance counterion condensation. A simple scaling picture shows how the effects of dielectric discontinuities and surface-charge distributions are intertwined: Dielectric discontinuities diminish condensation if the backbone charge is uniformly smeared out while counterions are localized in space; they can, however, enhance condensation when the backbone charge is discrete. In the presence of asymmetric salts such as CaCl<sub>2</sub>, we find that the correlation effect, treated at the Gaussian level, is more pronounced when the surface has a lower dielectric constant, inverting the sign of the charge at a smaller value of Ca<sup>2+</sup> concentration. <br /><br /> In the last chapter we study binding of cationic peptides onto a lipid-bilayer membrane. The peptide not only interacts electrostatically with anionic lipids, rearranging their spatial distributions, but it can also insert hydrophobically into the membrane, expanding the area of its binding layer (i. e. , the outer layer). We examine how peptide charges and peptide insertion (thus area expansion) are intertwined. Our results show that, depending on the bilayer's surface charge density and peptide hydrophobicity, there is an optimal peptide charge yielding the maximum peptide penetration. Our results shed light on the physics behind the activity and selective toxicity of antimicrobial peptides, i. e. , they selectively rupture bacterial membranes while leaving host cells intact.