The physical effects of small sugars on membranes have been studied for decades, primarily because of their membrane stabilization in cold or dehydrated environments. We studied the effects of up to 20 mol% glucose in bilayers made of 1,2-dimyristoyl-sn
-glycero-3-phosphocholine (DMPC) at low hydration by combining X-ray diffraction and Molecular Dynamics (MD) simulations. In agreement with previous studies, we observe membrane thinning at low and membrane thickening at high sugar concentrations. Glucose was found to preferentially localize to the outer head region of phospholipid bilayers at all concentrations, and partitioning of sugar in the membranes was found to monotonically increase with increasing sugar concentration. While the number of gauche defects in the lipid acyl tails and the lipid packing in the presence of sugar resembled values of a fluid lipid bilayer, tail dynamics, as assessed by autocorrelation of the carbon atoms in the phospholipid tails, were slowed down significantly with increasing glucose content. Thus, our findings suggest that sugar leads to a a disordered, glassy state of the hydrophobic membrane core. The non-monotonic effect of glucose on membrane thickness was found to be an effect of fluidification at low concentrations and decreased interdigitation in the higher sugar concentration regime.
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