Interaction mechanism between the focused ultrasound and lipid membrane at the molecular level

Viet Hoang Man, Mai Suan Li, Junmei Wang, Philippe Derreumaux, Phuong H. Nguyen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Focused ultrasound (FUS) has a wide range of medical applications. Nowadays, the diagnostic and therapeutic ultrasound procedures are routinely used; effects of ultrasound on biological systems at the molecular level are, however, not fully understood. Experimental results on the interaction of the cell membrane, a simplest but important system component, with ultrasound are controversial. Molecular dynamics (MD) simulations could provide valuable insights, but there is no single study on the mechanism of the FUS induced structural changes in cell membranes. With this in mind, we develop a simple method to include FUS into a standard MD simulation. Adopting the 1,2-dioleoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine lipid membrane as a representative model described by the MARTINI coarse-grained force field, and using experimental values of the ultrasound frequency and intensity, we show that the heat and bubble cavitation are not the primary direct mechanisms that cause structural changes in the membrane. The spatial pressure gradients between the focused and free regions and between the parallel and perpendicular directions to the membrane are the origin of the mechanism. These gradients force lipids to move out of the focused region, forming a lipid flow along the membrane diagonal. Lipids in the free region move in the opposite direction due to the conservation of the total momentum. These opposite motions create wrinkles along the membrane diagonal at low FUS intensities and tear up the membrane at high FUS intensities. Once the membrane is torn up, it is not easy to reform. The implication of our findings in the FUS-induced drug delivery is discussed in some detail.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number215101
JournalJournal of Chemical Physics
Issue number21
StatePublished - Jun 7 2019
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physics and Astronomy(all)
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry


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