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J Gen Physiol. 1994 Oct 1; 104(4): 645–673.
PMCID: PMC2229230

Lysophospholipids modulate channel function by altering the mechanical properties of lipid bilayers


Lipid metabolites, free fatty acids and lysophospholipids, modify the function of membrane proteins including ion channels. Such alterations can occur through signal transduction pathways, but may also result from "direct" effects of the metabolite on the protein. To investigate possible mechanisms for such direct effects, we examined the alterations of gramicidin channel function by lysophospholipids (LPLs): lysophosphatidylcholine (LPC), lysophosphatidylethanolamine (LPE), lysophosphatidylserine (LPS), and lysophosphatidylinositol (LPI). The experiments were done on planar bilayers formed by diphytanoylphosphatidylcholine in n-decane a system where receptor- mediated effects can be excluded. At aqueous concentrations below the critical micelle concentration (CMC), LPLs can increase the dimerization constant for membrane-bound gramicidin up to 500-fold (at 2 microM). The relative potency increases as a function of the size of the polar head group, but does not seem to vary as a function of head group charge. The increased dimerization constant results primarily from an increase in the rate constant for channel formation, which can increase more than 100-fold (in the presence of LPC and LPI), whereas the channel dissociation rate constant decreases only about fivefold. The LPL effect cannot be ascribed to an increased membrane fluidity, which would give rise to an increased channel dissociation rate constant. The ability of LPC to decrease the channel dissociation rate constant varies as a function of channel length (which is always less than the membrane's equilibrium thickness): as the channel length is decreased, the potency of LPC is increased. LPC has no effect on membrane thickness or the surface tension of monolayers at the air/electrolyte interface. The bilayer-forming glycerolmonooleate does not decrease the channel dissociation rate constant. These results show that LPLs alter gramicidin channel function by altering the membrane deformation energy, and that the changes in deformation energy can be related to the molecular "shape" of the membrane-modifying compounds. Similar alterations in the mechanical properties of biological membranes may form a general mechanism by which one can alter membrane protein function.

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