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J Membr Biol. 2009 Mar;228(1):15-31. doi: 10.1007/s00232-009-9155-7. Epub 2009 Feb 26.

Concentration-dependent effects on intracellular and surface pH of exposing Xenopus oocytes to solutions containing NH3/NH4(+).

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Department of Cellular and Molecular Physiology, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT 06520, USA.


Others have shown that exposing oocytes to high levels of NH(3)/NH(4)(+) (10-20 mM) causes a paradoxical fall in intracellular pH (pH(i)), whereas low levels (e.g., 0.5 mM) cause little pH(i) change. Here we monitored pH(i) and extracellular surface pH (pH(S)) while exposing oocytes to 5 or 0.5 mM NH(3)/NH(4)(+). We confirm that 5 mM NH(3)/NH(4)(+) causes a paradoxical pH(i) fall (-DeltapH(i) approximately equal 0.2), but also observe an abrupt pH(S) fall (-DeltapH(S) approximately equal 0.2)-indicative of NH(3) influx-followed by a slow decay. Reducing [NH(3)/NH(4)(+)] to 0.5 mM minimizes pH(i) changes but maintains pH(S) changes at a reduced magnitude. Expressing AmtB (bacterial Rh homologue) exaggerates -DeltapH(S) at both NH(3)/NH(4)(+) levels. During removal of 0.5 or 5 mM NH(3)/NH(4)(+), failure of pH(S) to markedly overshoot bulk extracellular pH implies little NH(3) efflux and, thus, little free cytosolic NH(3)/NH(4)(+). A new analysis of the effects of NH(3) vs. NH(4)(+) fluxes on pH(S) and pH(i) indicates that (a) NH(3) rather than NH(4)(+) fluxes dominate pH(i) and pH(S) changes and (b) oocytes dispose of most incoming NH(3). NMR studies of oocytes exposed to (15)N-labeled NH(3)/NH(4)(+) show no significant formation of glutamine but substantial NH(3)/NH(4)(+) accumulation in what is likely an acid intracellular compartment. In conclusion, parallel measurements of pH(i) and pH(S) demonstrate that NH(3) flows across the plasma membrane and provide new insights into how a protein molecule in the plasma membrane-AmtB-enhances the flux of a gas across a biological membrane.

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