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J Biol Chem. 1996 May 17;271(20):11627-30.

Individual leaflets of a membrane bilayer can independently regulate permeability.

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  • 1Laboratory of Epithelial Cell Biology, Renal-Electrolyte Division, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pennsylvania 15213, USA.


Water rapidly crosses most membranes, but only slowly crosses apical membranes of barrier epithelia such as bladder and kidney collecting duct, a feature essential to barrier function. How apical membrane structure reduces permeabilities remains unclear. Cell plasma membranes contain two leaflets of distinct lipid composition; the role of this bilayer asymmetry in membrane permeability is unclear. To determine how asymmetry of leaflet composition affects membrane permeability, effects on bilayer permeation of reducing single leaflet permeability were determined using two approaches: formation of asymmetric bilayers in an Ussing chamber, with only one of two leaflets containing cholesterol sulfate, and stabilization of the external leaflet of unilamellar vesicles with praeseodymium (Pr3+). In both systems, permeability measurements showed that each leaflet acts as an independent resistor of water permeation. These results show that a single bilayer leaflet can act as the barrier to permeation and provide direct evidence that segregation of lipids to create a low permeability of barrier epithelial apical membranes.

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