How Ethanolic Disinfectants Disintegrate Coronavirus Model Membranes: A Dissipative Particle Dynamics Simulation Study

Tianhang Zhou, Zhenghao Wu, Shubhadip Das, Hossein Eslami*, Florian Müller-Plathe

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


We have developed dissipative particle dynamics models for pure dipalmitoylphosphatidylcholine (DPPC), dioleoylphosphatidylcholine (DOPC), and dimyristoylphosphatidylcholine (DMPC) as well as their binary and ternary mixed membranes, as coronavirus model membranes. The stabilities of pure and mixed membranes, surrounded by aqueous solutions containing up to 70 mol % ethanol (alcoholic disinfectants), have been investigated at room temperature. We found that aqueous solutions containing 5-10 mol % ethanol already have a significant weakening effect on the pure and mixed membranes. The magnitude of the effect depends on the membrane composition and the ethanol concentration. Ethanol permeabilizes the membrane, causing its lateral swelling and thickness shrinking and reducing the orientational order of the hydrocarbon tail of the bilayer. The free energy barrier for the permeation of ethanol in the bilayers is considerably reduced by the ethanol uptake. The rupture-critical ethanol concentrations causing the membrane failure are 20.7, 27.5, and 31.7 mol % in the aqueous phase surrounding pure DMPC, DOPC, and DPPC membranes, respectively. Characterizing the failure of lipid membranes by a machine-learning neural network framework, we found that all mixed binary and/or ternary membranes disrupt when immersed in an aqueous solution containing a rupture-critical ethanol concentration, ranging from 20.7 to 31.7 mol %, depending on the composition of the membrane; the DPPC-rich membranes are more intact, while the DMPC-rich membranes are least intact. Due to the tight packing of long, saturated hydrocarbon tails in DPPC, increasing the DPPC content of the mixed membrane increases its stability against the disinfectant. At high DPPC concentrations, where the DOPC and DMPC molecules are confined between the DPPC lipids, the ordered hydrocarbon tails of DPPC also induce order in the DOPC and DMPC molecules and, hence, stabilize the membrane more. Our simulations on pure and mixed membranes of a diversity of compositions reveal that a maximum ethanol concentration of 32 mol % (55 wt %) in the alcohol-based disinfectants is enough to disintegrate any membrane composed of these three lipids.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2597-2615
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Chemical Theory and Computation
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 12 Apr 2022
Externally publishedYes


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