Molecular mechanism of ultrasound interaction with a blood brain barrier model

Viet Hoang Man, Mai Suan Li, Philippe Derreumaux, Junmei Wang, Toan T. Nguyen, S. Nangia, Phuong H. Nguyen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


The brain is strictly protected by the blood brain barrier preventing the crossing of therapeutics to treat brain diseases. The high and low intensity focused ultrasound methods have been used to temporarily open the blood brain barrier, facilitating the transport of drugs. The methods are very promising because the opening is transient, localized, and noninvasive. However, the molecular mechanism of the opening is unknown, and this limits the development and application of these methods. With this in mind, we carry out a molecular dynamics simulation study to understand the interaction of ultrasound with the cell membrane and the tight junction. Our minimal blood brain barrier model is composed of two lipid bilayers, mimicking two portions of neighboring cells, connected together by a tight junction formed by a pair of two cis-dimers of the claudin-5 protein. Using an experimental ultrasound frequency of 50 MHz, simulations show that at low intensities, ultrasound does not impact the structure of the cell membranes and tight junction, implying that the direct interaction of ultrasound with the blood brain barrier is not responsible for the experimentally observed opening. At high intensities, the ultrasound pulls the monolayers of individual cell membrane lipid bilayers apart, creating air compartments inside the bilayers. This reduces the free energy barrier for the translocation of drugs across the lipid bilayer and enhances drug permeability. At very high intensities, the two monolayers are largely separated, resulting in cell damage and implying that the blood brain barrier is primarily opened at the experimentally observed damaged areas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number045104
JournalJournal of Chemical Physics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 28 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Physics and Astronomy
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry


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