H+/OH permeation through lipid bilayers occurs at anomalously high rates and the determinants of proton flux through membranes are poorly understood. Since all life depends on proton gradients, it is important to develop a greater understanding of proton leak phenomena. We have used stopped-flow fluorimetry to probe the influence of two lipid raft components, chol (cholesterol) and SM (sphingomyelin), on H+/OH and water permeability. Increasing the concentrations of both lipids in POPC (palmitoyl-2-oleoyl phosphatidylcholine) liposomes decreased water permeability in a concentration-dependent manner, an effect that correlated with increased lipid order. Surprisingly, proton flux was increased by increasing the concentration of chol and SM. The chol effect was complex with molar concentrations of 17.9, 33 and 45.7% giving 2.8-fold (P<0.01), 2.2-fold (P<0.001) and 5.1-fold (P<0.001) increases in H+/OH permeability from a baseline of 2.4×10−2 cm/s. SM at 10 mole% effected a 2.8-fold increase (P<0.01), whereas 20 and 30 mole% enhanced permeability by 3.6-fold (P<0.05) and 4.1-fold respectively (P<0.05). Supplementing membranes containing chol with SM did not enhance H+/OH permeability. Of interest was the finding that chol addition to soya-bean lipids decreased H+/OH permeability, consistent with an earlier report [Ira and Krishnamoorthy (2001) J. Phys. Chem. B 105, 1484–1488]. We speculate that the presence of proton carriers in crude lipid extracts might contribute to this result. We conclude that (i) chol and SM specifically and independently increase rates of proton permeation in POPC bilayers, (ii) domains enriched in these lipids or domain interfaces may represent regions with high H+/OH conductivity, (iii) H+/OH fluxes are not governed by lipid order and (iv) chol can inhibit or promote H+/OH permeability depending on the total lipid environment. Theories of proton permeation are discussed in the light of these results.

You do not currently have access to this content.