What Can We Learn about Cholesterol’s Transmembrane Distribution Based on Cholesterol-Induced Changes in Membrane Dipole Potential?
Here we consider this outstanding issue through atomistic simulations of asymmetric lipid membranes, whose composition is largely consistent with eukaryotic plasma membranes. We show that the membrane dipole potential changes in a cholesterol-dependent manner. Remarkably, moving cholesterol from the extracellular to the cytosolic leaflet increases the dipole potential on the cytosolic side, and vice versa. Biologically this implies that by altering the dipole potential, cholesterol can provide a driving force for cholesterol molecules to favor the cytosolic leaflet, in order to compensate for the intramembrane field that arises from the resting potential.