Membrane perturbation by carbon nanotube insertion: pathways to internalization.
Lelimousin M., Sansom MS.
Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) can penetrate the membranes of cells, offering prospects for nanomedicine but problems for nanotoxicity. Molecular simulations are used to provide a systematic analysis of the interactions of single-walled and multi-walled CNTs of different radii with a model lipid bilayer membrane. The simulations allow characterization of the mechanism of spontaneous exothermic insertion of CNTs into lipid bilayer membranes. The size and type of CNT determine the nature and extent of the local perturbation of the bilayer. Single-walled CNTs are shown to insert via a two-step mechanism with initial transient formation of a water filled pore followed by full insertion of the CNT into the bilayer. The latter stage is associated with formation of a persistent inverted micelle arrangement of lipid molecules trapped inside the CNT. This suggests a possible vehicle for nano-encapsulation of drugs, enabling their entry into and subsequent release within cells following endocytosis of CNT-containing membranes.