Number of water molecules coupled to the transport of sodium, potassium and hydrogen ions via gramicidin, nonactin or valinomycin

David G Levitt, Steven R. Elias, Joseph M. Hautman

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138 Scopus citations


The number of water molecules (n) coupled to the transport of cations across lipid membranes was determined in two different wats: directly from the electro-osmotic volume flux per ion, and, by the use of Onsager's relation, from the open circuit streaming potential produced by an osmotic pressure difference. The results of the two approaches were in general agreement. Monoolein membranes were formed on the ends of polyethylene or Teflon tubing connected to a microliter syringe and the volume change necessary to keep the membrane at a fixed position was measured. It was necesary to make corrections for unstirred layer effects. The results for gramicidin were: n ≈ 12 for 0.15 M KCl and NaCl, n ≈ 6 for 3.0 M KCl and NaCl, and n ≈ 0 for 0.01 M HCl. For nonactin, n ≈ 4 for both 0.15 and 3.0 M KCl and NaCl. Valinomycin (for 0.15 M KCl) behaved like nonactin. It is shown that for a channel mechanism, in general, n is less than or equal to the number of water molecules in a channel that does not contain any cations. Thus, the n of 12 for the 0.15 M salts implies that the gramicidin channel can hold at least 12 water molecules. This places an important constraint on models of the channel structure. The n of 0 for HCl is consistent with a process in which protons jump along a continuous row of water molecules. The decrease of n with the 3.0 M salts may indicate that the channel becomes multiply occupied at high salt concentrations. The n of 4 for nonactin and valinomycin means that at least four water molecules are associated with the carrier·cation complex, probably in the interstices between the complex and the disordered lipid.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)436-451
Number of pages16
JournalBBA - Biomembranes
Issue number2
StatePublished - Sep 22 1978

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported in part by a grant from the Minnesota Medical Foundation. We wish to thank Drs. Alan Finkelstein, Eugene Grim, Fernando Vargas, and Nathan Lifson for their helpful comments.


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