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Biophys J. 1988 Feb;53(2):247-60.

Membrane interactions in nerve myelin: II. Determination of surface charge from biochemical data.

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  • 1Department of Neuroscience, Children's Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts 02115.


In our accompanying paper (Inouye and Kirschner, 1988) we calculated the surface charge density at the extracellular surfaces in peripheral and central nervous system (PNS; CNS) myelins from observations on the dependency of the width of the extracellular space on pH and ionic strength. Here, we have determined the surface charge density of the membrane surfaces in myelin from its chemical composition and the localization of some of its molecular components. We then analyzed the attractive and repulsive forces between the apposed surfaces and calculated equilibrium periods for comparison with the measured values. The biochemical model accounts for the observed isoelectric range of the myelin period and, with the surface charge reduced (possibly by divalent cation binding or a space charge approximation), the model also accounts for the dependency of period on pH above the isoelectric range. At the extracellular (and cytoplasmic) surfaces the contribution of lipid (with pI approximately 2) to the net surface charge is about the same in both PNS and CNS myelin, whereas the contribution of protein depends on which ones are exposed at the two surfaces. The protein conformation and localization modulate the surface charge of the lipid, resulting in positively-charged cytoplasmic surfaces (pI approximately 9) and negatively-charged extracellular surfaces (pI approximately 2-4). The net negative charge at the extracellular surface is due in CNS myelin to lipid, and in PNS myelin to both lipid and (PO) glycoprotein. The net positive charge at the cytoplasmic surface is due in CNS myelin mostly to basic protein, and in PNS myelin to PO glycoprotein and basic protein. The invariance of the cytoplasmic packing may be due to specific short-range interactions. Our models demonstrate how the particular myelin proteins and their localization and conformation can account for the differences in inter-membrane interactions in CNS and PNS myelins.

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