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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2001 Jul 3;98(14):7777-82.

Polarity and permeation profiles in lipid membranes.

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Abteilung Spektroskopie, Max-Planck-Institut für Biophysikalische Chemie, 37070 Göttingen, Germany.


The isotropic (14)N-hyperfine coupling constant, a(o)(N), of nitroxide spin labels is dependent on the local environmental polarity. The dependence of a(o)(N) in fluid phospholipid bilayer membranes on the C-atom position, n, of the nitroxide in the sn-2 chain of a spin-labeled diacyl glycerophospholipid therefore determines the transmembrane polarity profile. The polarity variation in phospholipid membranes, with and without equimolar cholesterol, is characterized by a sigmoidal, trough-like profile of the form (1 + exp [(n - n(o))/lambda])(-1), where n = n(o) is the point of maximum gradient, or polarity midpoint, beyond which the free energy of permeation decreases linearly with n, on a characteristic length-scale, lambda. Integration over this profile yields a corresponding expression for the permeability barrier to polar solutes. For fluid membranes without cholesterol, n(o) approximately 8 and lambda approximately 0.5--1 CH(2) units, and the permeability barrier introduces an additional diffusive resistance that is equivalent to increasing the effective membrane thickness by 35--80%, depending on the lipid. For membranes containing equimolar cholesterol, n(o) approximately 9--10, and the total change in polarity is greater than for membranes without cholesterol, increasing the permeability barrier by a factor of 2, whereas the decay length remains similar. The permeation of oxygen into fluid lipid membranes (determined by spin-label relaxation enhancements) displays a profile similar to that of the transmembrane polarity but of opposite sense. For fluid membranes without cholesterol n(o) approximately 8 and lambda approximately 1 CH(2) units, also for oxygen. The permeation profile for polar paramagnetic ion complexes is closer to a single exponential decay, i.e., n(o) lies outside the acyl-chain region of the membrane. These results are relevant not only to the permeation of water and polar solutes into membranes and their permeabilities, but also to depth determinations of site-specifically spin-labeled protein residues by using paramagnetic relaxation agents.

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