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J Gen Physiol. 2001 Apr;117(4):329-44.

Regulation of organelle acidity.

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  • 1Department of Physics, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, California 94720, USA.


Intracellular organelles have characteristic pH ranges that are set and maintained by a balance between ion pumps, leaks, and internal ionic equilibria. Previously, a thermodynamic study by Rybak et al. (Rybak, S., F. Lanni, and R. Murphy. 1997. Biophys. J. 73:674-687) identified the key elements involved in pH regulation; however, recent experiments show that cellular compartments are not in thermodynamic equilibrium. We present here a nonequilibrium model of lumenal acidification based on the interplay of ion pumps and channels, the physical properties of the lumenal matrix, and the organelle geometry. The model successfully predicts experimentally measured steady-state and transient pH values and membrane potentials. We conclude that morphological differences among organelles are insufficient to explain the wide range of pHs present in the cell. Using sensitivity analysis, we quantified the influence of pH regulatory elements on the dynamics of acidification. We found that V-ATPase proton pump and proton leak densities are the two parameters that most strongly influence resting pH. Additionally, we modeled the pH response of the Golgi complex to varying external solutions, and our findings suggest that the membrane is permeable to more than one dominant counter ion. From this data, we determined a Golgi complex proton permeability of 8.1 x 10(-6) cm/s. Furthermore, we analyzed the early-to-late transition in the endosomal pathway where Na,K-ATPases have been shown to limit acidification by an entire pH unit. Our model supports the role of the Na,K-ATPase in regulating endosomal pH by affecting the membrane potential. However, experimental data can only be reproduced by (1) positing the existence of a hypothetical voltage-gated chloride channel or (2) that newly formed vesicles have especially high potassium concentrations and small chloride conductance.

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