Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2013

Degree Type


Degree Name



Chemical Engineering and Materials Science

First Advisor

Jeffrey J. Potoff


This project is focused on identifying the role of key players in the membrane fusion process at the atomic level with the use of molecular dynamics simulations. Membrane fusion of apposed bilayers is one of the most fundamental and frequently occurring biological phenomena in living organisms. It is an essential step in several cellular processes such as neuronal exocytosis, sperm fusion with oocytes and intracellular fusion of organelles to name a few. Membrane fusion is a frequent process in a living organism but is still not fully understood at the atomic level in terms of the role of various factors that play a crucial part in completion of membrane fusion. Two major factors that have been identified and studied experimentally are the protein Synaptotagmin and SNAREs. In addition, Ca2+ is known to play a crucial role in this process, however the exact mechanism of action is still unknown. Prime objective of this study is to understand these interactions and the role of Ca2 + in the process at the atomic level by carrying out molecular dynamics simulations. One of the primary calculations to perform is potential of mean force (PMF) between SYT and bilayer to analyze the effect of Ca2+ on their relative affinities.

1-octanol-water partition coefficient (log Kow) of a solute is a key parameter used in the prediction of a wide variety of complex phenomena such as drug availability and bioaccumulation potential of trace contaminants. Adaptive biasing force method is applied to calculate 1-octanol partition coefficients of n-alkanes and extended to other complex systems like ionic liquids, energetic materials and chemical warfare agents.

Molecular dynamics simulations show that both domains of SYT-1, C2A and C2B, once calcium bound, insert into the lipid bilayer composed of anionic phospholipids. In contrast, no insertion is observed when the domains do not have bound calcium or when the bilayer is not charged negative. Electrostatic interactions play an important role in this insertion process. Effect of calcium binding to the C2A and C2B domain on the overall electrostatics of the protein was studied by generating the ESP maps. Negative potential on the Calcium binding pocket transforms into positive potential once calcium is attached to those sites. Interaction of this positive potential surface with the negatively charged bilayer acts as a driving force for protein insertion into the bilayer. In addition, adaptive biasing force method has emerged as a powerful tool for prediction of 1-octanol water partition coefficients and is successfully implemented and optimized for n-alkanes and extended to the systems of ionic liquids, energetic materials and chemical warfare agents for which 1-octanol water partition coefficient is either not known or is difficult to measure via experimental methods.