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Biophys J. 1981 Oct;36(1):109-16.

The sting. Melittin forms channels in lipid bilayers.


Melittin, a toxin of bee venom, is a cationic polypeptide composed of 26 amino acids. The six residues of the C-terminal end are polar and 19 of the 20 residues of the N-terminal end are hydrophobic. Exposure of the lecithin bilayer to melittin results in the formation of channels that are more permeable to anions that to cations. Unilateral addition of melittin produces a voltage-dependent increase in membrane conductance when the side where the polypeptide is present in made positive but not when it is made negative. At a fixed voltage, the conductance increases with the fourth power of the melittin concentration in the aqueous phase. At a fixed peptide concentration, the conductance increases approximately e-fold per 6-mV increase in the electrical potential difference across the membrane. These results suggest that four melittin monomers are needed to form a channel and, furthermore, that a minimum of four equivalent electronic charges need to be displaced by the electrical field to explain the voltage dependence of the conductance.

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