back to publication list

T. Heimburg, A. Blicher, L. D. Mosgaard and K. A. Zecchi. 2014. Electromechanical properties of biomembranes and nerves. J. Phys.,Conference Series 558: 012018.    pdf abstract93

Lipid membranes are insulators and capacitors, which can be charged by an external electric field. This phenomenon plays an important role in the field of electrophysiology, for instance when describing nerve pulse conduction. Membranes are also made of polar molecules meaning that they contain molecules with permanent electrical dipole moments. Therefore, the properties of membranes are subject to changes in trans-membrane voltage. Vice versa, mechanical forces on membranes lead to changes in the membrane potential. Associated effects are flexoelectricity, piezoelectricity, and electrostriction. Lipid membranes can melt from an ordered to a disordered state. Due to the change of membrane dimensions associated with lipid membrane melting, electrical properties are linked to the melting transition. Melting of the membrane can induce changes in trans-membrane potential, and application of voltage can lead to a shift of the melting transition. Further, close to transitions membranes are very susceptible to piezoelectric phenomena. We discuss these phenomena in relation with the occurrence of lipid ion channels. Close to melting transitions, lipid membranes display step-wise ion conduction events, which are indistinguishable from protein ion channels. These channels display a voltage-dependent open probability. One finds asymmetric current-voltage relations of the pure membrane very similar to those found for various protein channels. This asymmetry falsely has been considered a criterion to distinguish lipid channels from protein channels. However, we show that the asymmetry can arise from the electromechanical properties of the lipid membrane itself. Finally, we discuss electromechanical behavior in connection with the electromechanical theory of nerve pulse transduction. It has been found experimentally that nerve pulses are related to changes in nerve thickness. Thus, during the nerve pulse a solitary mechanical pulse travels along the nerve. Due to electromechanical coupling it is unavoidable that this pulse generates a trans-membrane voltage. In the past, we have proposed that this electromechanical pulse is the origin of the action potential in nerves.