Langmuir : the ACS journal of surfaces and colloids

Inversion of membrane surface charge by trivalent cations probed with a cation-selective channel.

PMID 23088396


We demonstrate that the cation-selective channel formed by gramicidin A can be used as a reliable sensor for studying the multivalent ion accumulation at the surfaces of charged lipid membranes and the "charge inversion" phenomenon. In asymmetrically charged membranes with the individual leaflets formed from pure negative and positive lipids bathed by 0.1 M CsCl solutions the channel exhibits current rectification, which is comparable to that of a typical n/p semiconductor diode. We show that even at these highly asymmetrical conditions the channel conductance can be satisfactorily described by the electrodiffusion equation in the constant field approximation but, due to predictable limitations, only when the applied voltages do not exceed 50 mV. Analysis of the changes in the voltage-dependent channel conductance upon addition of trivalent cations allows us to gauge their interactions with the membrane surface. The inversion of the sign of the effective surface charge takes place at the concentrations, which correlate with the cation size. Specifically, these concentrations are close to 0.05 mM for lanthanum, 0.25 mM for hexaamminecobalt, and 4 mM for spermidine.