In this study, the dopamine–lipid bilayer interactions were probed with three physiologically relevant ion compositions using atomistic molecular dynamics simulations and free energy calculations.

The in silico results indicate that calcium is able to decrease significantly the binding of dopamine to a neutral (zwitterionic) phosphatidylcholine lipid bilayer model mimicking the inner leaflet of a presynaptic vesicle. We argue that the observed calcium-induced effect is likely in crucial role in the neurotransmitter release from the presynaptic vesicles docked in the active zone of nerve terminals. The inner leaflets of presynaptic vesicles, which are responsible for releasing neurotransmitters into the synaptic cleft, are mainly composed of neutral lipids such as phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylethanolamine. The neutrality of the lipid head group region, enhanced by a low pH level, should limit membrane aggregation of transmitters. In addition, the simulations suggest that the high calcium levels inside presynaptic vesicles prevent even the most lipophilic transmitters such as dopamine from adhering to the inner leaflet surface, thus rendering unhindered neurotransmitter release feasible.


Read more: