The effect of gangliosides on membrane permeability was investigated by studying the kinetic properties of cytochrome c oxidase, the activity of which, when the enzyme is reconstituted in phospholipid vesicles, is dependent on membrane permeability to H+ and K+. The experiments indicate that three different gangliosides (GM1, DD1a, GT1b) incorporated into cytochrome c oxidase-containing phospholipid vesicles stimulate enzymic activity, in the absence of ionophores, most probably by disorganizing the bilayer lipid assembly and increasing its permeability to ions. This interpretation was confirmed by fluorescence-spectroscopy experiments in which the rate of passive leakage of carboxyfluorescein entrapped in the vesicles was measured. Cholera toxin, or its isolated B-subunit, added to GM1-containing proteoliposomes inhibited cytochrome c oxidase activity, indicating the lack of formation, under these experimental conditions, of channels freely permeable to H+ or K+.

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