The role of K+ transport in the generation of a pH gradient in Escherichia coli has been investigated. In K+-depleted cells, net K+ uptake dissipated delta psi (membrane potential) and led to an increase in delta pH (pH gradient). The magnitude of the delta pH formed bore a simple relationship to the net K+ uptake and was substantially independent of the respiratory rate. In K+-replete cells, generation of a pH gradient was again K+-dependent, although no net uptake of this cation occurred. The results are discussed in terms of K+ cycling, and it is suggested that delta pH is in part a function of the rate of cycling and independent of the respiratory rate.

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