A computational analysis of the insertion of carbon nanotubes into cellular membranes

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Carbon nanotubes have been proposed to serve as nano-vehicles to deliver genetic or therapeutic material into the interior of cells because of their capacity to cross the cell membrane. A detailed picture of the molecular mode of action of such a delivery is, however, difficult to obtain because of the concealing effects of the cell membrane. Here we report a systematic computational study of membrane insertion of individual carbon nanotubes and carbon nanotube bundles using two entirely different and unrelated techniques. First a static scan of the environmental free energy is carried out based on a membrane mimicry approach and different insertion geometries are assessed. Then the dynamics is investigated with a coarse-grained approach that was previously used in the study of the integration dynamics of nanoparticles into the bilayer. The results of both models point, for unfunctionalized carbon nanotubes, at a preference for the horizontal orientation inside the internal hydrophobic layer of the cell membrane. Finally, the energetics of the formation of bundles of carbon nanotubes is studied. The cellular membrane promotes aggregation of carbon nanotubes in its hydrophobic core and modifies the structural stability of the bundles. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd.

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