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J Biol Chem. 2001 Jul 20;276(29):27266-71. Epub 2001 May 23.

Molecular mechanisms of water and solute transport across archaebacterial lipid membranes.

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  • 1Renal-Electrolyte Division, Department of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15261, USA. mathaij@msx.dept-med.pitt.edu


Archaebacteria thrive in environments characterized by anaeobiosis, saturated salt, and both high and low extremes of temperature and pH. The bulk of their membrane lipids are polar, characterized by the archaeal structural features typified by ether linkage of the glycerol backbone to isoprenoid chains of constant length, often fully saturated, and with sn-2,3 stereochemistry opposite that of glycerolipids of Bacteria and Eukarya. Also unique to these bacteria are macrocyclic archaeol and membrane spanning caldarchaeol lipids that are found in some extreme thermophiles and methanogens. To define the barrier function of archaebacterial membranes and to examine the effects of these unique structural features on permeabilities, we investigated the water, solute (urea and glycerol), proton, and ammonia permeability of liposomes formed by these lipids. Both the macrocyclic archaeol and caldarchaeol lipids reduced the water, ammonia, urea, and glycerol permeability of liposomes significantly (6-120-fold) compared with diphytanylphosphatidylcholine liposomes. The presence of the ether bond and phytanyl chains did not significantly affect these permeabilities. However, the apparent proton permeability was reduced 3-fold by the presence of an ether bond. The presence of macrocyclic archaeol and caldarchaeol structures further reduced apparent proton permeabilities by 10-17-fold. These results indicate that the limiting mobility of the midplane hydrocarbon region of the membranes formed by macrocyclic archaeol and caldarchaeol lipids play a significant role in reducing the permeability properties of the lipid membrane. In addition, it appears that substituting ether for ester bonds presents an additional barrier to proton flux.

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