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Biophys J. 1992 Jul;63(1):78-88.

Transport methods for probing the barrier domain of lipid bilayer membranes.

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  • 1Department of Pharmaceutics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City 84112.


Two experimental techniques have been utilized to explore the barrier properties of lecithin/decane bilayer membranes with the aim of determining the contributions of various domains within the bilayer to the overall barrier. The thickness of lecithin/decane bilayers was systematically varied by modulating the chemical potential of decane in the annulus surrounding the bilayer using different mole fractions of squalene in decane. The dependence of permeability of a model permeant (acetamide) on the thickness of the solvent-filled region of the bilayer was assessed in these bilayers to determine the contribution of this region to the overall barrier. The flux of acetamide was found to vary linearly with bilayer area with Pm = (2.9 +/- 0.3) x 10(-4) cm s-1, after correcting for diffusion through unstirred water layers. The ratio between the overall membrane permeability coefficient and that calculated for diffusion through the hydrocarbon core in membranes having maximum thickness was 0.24, suggesting that the solvent domain contributes only slightly to the overall barrier properties. Consistent with these results, the permeability of acetamide was found to be independent of bilayer thickness. The relative contributions of the bilayer interface and ordered hydrocarbon regions to the transport barrier may be evaluated qualitatively by exploring the effective chemical nature of the barrier microenvironment. This may be probed by comparing functional group contributions to transport with those obtained for partitioning between water and various model bulk solvents ranging in polarity or hydrogen-bonding potential. A novel approach is described for obtaining group contributions to transport using ionizable permeants and pH adjustment. Using this approach, bilayer permeability coefficients of p-toluic acid and p-hydroxymethyl benzoic acid were determined to be 1.1 +/- 0.2 cm s-1 and (1.6 +/- 0.4) x 10(-3) cm s-1, respectively. From these values, the -OH group contribution to bilayer transport [delta(delta G0-OH)] was found to be 3.9 kcal/mol. This result suggests that the barrier region of the bilayer does not resemble the hydrogen-bonding environment found in octanol, but is somewhat less selective (more polar) than a hydrocarbon solvent.

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