Anomalous behavior of membrane fluidity caused by copper-copper bond coupled phospholipids

Membrane fluidity, well-known to be essential for cell functions, is obviously affected by copper. However, the underlying mechanism is still far from being understood, especially on the atomic level. Here, we unexpectedly observed that a decrease in phospholipid (PL) bilayer fluidity caused by Cu2+ was much more significant than those induced by Zn2+ and Ca2+, while a comparable reduction occurred in the last two ions. This finding clearly disagrees with the placement in the periodic table of Cu just next to Zn and far from Ca. The physical nature was revealed to be a special attraction between Cu+ cations, which can induce a motif forming of two phospholipids coupled by Cu-Cu bond (PL-diCu-PL). Namely, upon Cu2+ ion binding to a negatively charged phosphate group of lipid, Cu2+ was reduced to Cu+. The special attraction of the cations then caused one Cu+ ion simultaneously binding to two lipids and another Cu+, resulting in the formation of PL-diCu-PL structure. In contrast, this attraction cannot occur in the cases of Zn and Ca ions due to their electron structure. Remarkably, besides lipids, the phosphate group widely exists in other biological molecules, including DNA, RNA, ADP and ATP, which would also induce the similar structure of Cu ions with the molecules. Our findings thus provide a new view for understanding the biological functions of copper and the mechanism underlying copper-related diseases.

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