The function of membrane proteins often depends on the proteins' interaction with their lipid environment, spectacularly so in the case of mechanosensitive channels, which are gated through tension mediated by the surrounding lipids. Lipid bilayer tension is distributed quite inhomogeneously, but neither the scale at which relevant variation takes place nor the effect of varying lipid composition or tension has yet been investigated in atomic detail. We calculated lateral pressure profile distributions in lipid bilayers of various composition from all-atom molecular dynamics simulations totaling 110.5 ns in length. Reproducible pressure profile features at the 1 Å length scale were determined. Lipids with phosphatidylcholine headgroups were found to shift the lateral pressure out of the hydrophobic core and into the headgroup region by an amount that is independent of area per lipid. POPE bilayers simulated at areas smaller than optimal exerted dramatically higher lateral pressure in a narrow region at the start of the aliphatic chain. Stretching of POPC bilayers increased tension predominantly in the same region. A simple geometric analysis for the gating of the mechanosensitive channel MscL suggests that pressure profiles affect its gating through the second moment of the profile in a tension-independent manner.
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