The ability of the oxidized and singly reduced species of several bipyridylium cations to cross the cytoplasmic membrane of Escherichia coli was studied to locate the sites of reaction of the dyes with anaerobic respiratory enzymes. Benzyl Viologen radical crossed the membrane rapidly, whereas the oxidized species did not. The oxidized or radical species of Methyl Viologen, Morfamquat or Diquat did not rapidly cross the membrane. It was also shown that the dithionite anion does not cross the cytoplasmic membrane of E. coli. Diquat radical donates electrons to the nitrate reductase pathway at the periplasmic aspect of the membrane, whereas Benzyl Viologen radical reacted directly with nitrate reductase itself (EC 1.7.99.4) at the cytoplasmic aspect of the membrane. Thus the pathway of electron transfer in the nitrate reductase pathway is transmembranous. Formate hydrogenlyase (EC 1.2.1.2) and an uncharacterized nitrite reductase activity react with bipyridylium dyes at the periplasmic aspect of the membrane. Fumarate reductase (succinate dehydrogenase; EC 1.3.99.1) reacts with bipyridylium radicals, and formate dehydrogenase (cytochrome) (EC 1.2.2.1) with ferricyanide, at the cytoplasmic aspect of the membrane. The differing charge and membrane permeation of oxidized and radical species of bipyridylium dyes greatly complicate their use as potentiometric mediators in suspensions of cells or membrane vesicles.

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