The mechanism of monensin-mediated cation exchange based on real time measurements

E. Nachliel, Y. Finkelstein, M. Gutman

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Monensin is an ionophore that supports an electroneutral ion exchange across the lipid bilayer. Because of this, under steady-state conditions, no electric signals accompany its reactions. Using the Laser Induced Proton Pulse as a synchronizing event we selectively acidify one face of a black lipid membrane impregnated by monensin. The short perturbation temporarily upsets the acid-base equilibrium on one face of the membrane, causing a transient cycle of ion exchange. Under such conditions the molecular events could be discerned as a transient electric polarization of the membrane lasting approx. 200 μs. The proton-driven chemical reactions that lead to the electric signals had been reconstructed by numeric integration of differential rate equations which constitute a maximalistic description of the multi equilibria nature of the system (Gutman, M. and Nachliel, E. (1989) Electrochim. Acta 34, 1801-1806). The analysis of the reactions reveals that the ionic selectivity of the monensin (H+ > Na+ > K+) is due to more than one term. Besides the well established different affinity for the various cations, the selectivity is also derived from a large difference in the rates of cross membranal diffusivities (MoH > MoNa > MoK), which have never been detected before. (v) Quantitative analysis of the membrane's crossing rates of the three neutral complexes reveals a major role of the membranal dipolar field in regulating ion transport. The diffusion of MoH, which has no dipole moment, is hindered only by the viscose drag. On the other hand, the dipolar complexes (MoNa and MoK) are delayed by dipole-dipole interaction with the membrane. (vi) Comparison of the calculated dipoles with those estimated for the crystalline conformation of the [MoNa(H2O)2] and [MoK(H2O)2] complexes reveals that the MoNa may exist in the membrane at its crystal configuration, while the MoK definitely attains a structure having a dipole moment larger than in the crystal.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)131-145
Number of pages15
JournalBiochimica et Biophysica Acta - Biomembranes
Issue number2
StatePublished - 4 Dec 1996


  • Dipolar field
  • Ionic selectivity
  • Monensin
  • Polarization
  • Proton-cation exchange
  • Time-resolved polarization
  • Viscosity


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