Ionization Properties of Mixed Lipid Membranes: A Gouy-chapman Model of the Electrostatic-hydrogen Bond Switch

Publication Title

Biochimica et Biophysica Acta - Biomembranes

Publication Date


Document Type





membrane, hydrogen bond, electrostatics, gouy-chapman, poisson-boltzmann, phosphatidic acid, lipid


Biochemistry | Biology


The dissociation state of phosphatidic acid (PA) in a lipid bilayer is governed by the competition of proton binding and formation of a hydrogen bond through a mechanism termed the electrostatic-hydrogen bond switch. This mechanism has been suggested to provide the basis for the specific recognition of PA by proteins. Even in bare lipid bilayers the electrostatic-hydrogen bond switch is present if the membrane contains lipids like phosphatidylethanolamine that act as hydrogen bond donors. In this case, the dissociation state (pKa) of PA depends strongly on membrane composition. In the present work we incorporate the electrostatic-hydrogen bond switch mechanism into the Gouy-Chapman model for a membrane that is composed of PA and a hydrogen bond-donating zwitterionic lipid. To this end, our model integrates into the Gouy-Chapman approach a recently suggested electrostatic model for zwitterionic lipids. Hydrogen bond formation is incorporated phenomenologically as an additional non-electrostatic interaction between the phosphomonoester headgroup of PA and the zwitterionic lipid headgroup. We express the energetics of the composite membrane in terms of a free energy functional whose minimization leads to a modified non-linear Poisson-Boltzmann equation that we have solved numerically. Our calculations focus on the influence of the membrane environment on the dissociation state of PA. This influence can be expressed as a shift of the second pKa of PA, which we calculate as function of membrane composition, following experimental observation. The shift is large and negative if PA is the minor component in the membrane, and it changes over four pH units as function of the mole fraction of PA in the membrane. In contrast, the shift of the second pKa of PA remains small and is always positive if the zwitterionic lipid is unable to act as hydrogen bond donor. Hence, we find that the electrostatic-hydrogen bond switch mechanism regulates the dissociation state of PA with much greater sensitivity than would be possible based on a pure electrostatic regulation through the membrane potential.