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Hoffmann, R. A wiki for the life sciences where authorship matters. Nature Genetics (2008)

Movement of fatty acids, fatty acid analogues, and bile acids across phospholipid bilayers.

How lipophilic acids move across membranes, either model or biological, is the subject of controversy. We describe experiments which better define the mechanism and rates in protein-free phospholipid bilayers. The transbilayer movement of lipophilic acids [fatty acids (FA), covalently-labeled FA, bile acids, and retinoic acid] was monitored by entrapping pyranin, a water-soluble, pH-sensitive fluorescent molecule to measure pH inside unilamellar vesicles [Kamp, F., & Hamilton, J.A. (1992) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 89, 11367-11370]. Equations for the pseudo-unimolecular rate constants for transbilayer movement of un-ionized (kappa FAH) and ionized (kappa FA-) acids are derived. All FA studied (octanoic, lauric, myristic, palmitic, stearic, oleic, elaidic, linoleic, linolelaidic, and arachidonic) and retinoic acid exhibited rapid transbilayer movement (t 1/2 < 1 s) via the un-ionized form across small unilamellar egg phosphatidylcholine (PC) vesicles. FA produced by phospholipase A2 in the outer leaflet of PC vesicles equilibrated rapidly to the inner leaflet. Ionized FA showed enhanced transbilayer movement (kappa FA- = 0.029 s-1) in the presence of equimolar valinomycin. The three FA analogues [12-(9-anthroyloxy)stearic acid, 5-doxylstearic acid, and 1-pyrenenonanoic acid] moved across PC bilayers via the un-ionized form; except for the anthroyloxy FA (kappa FAH = 4.8 x 10(-3) s-1), the rates were too fast to measure (t 1/2 < 1 s). The rate for cholic acid (CA) transbilayer movement was slow (kappa CAH = 0.056 s-1) compared to that of the more hydrophobic bile acids, deoxy- and chenodeoxycholic acid (t 1/2 < 1 s). The taurine conjugates of the three bile acids did not cross the bilayer (t 1/2 > 1 h). A further application of the pyranin method was to measure the partitioning of FA and bile acids among water, albumin, and PC vesicles. Our results show that the ability of lipophilic acids to permeate a PC bilayer rapidly is dependent on the presence of the un-ionized acid in the membrane interface. Considering the fast unfacilitated movement of FA across protein-free phospholipid bilayers, it is unlikely that there is a universal need for a transport protein to enhance movement of FA across membrane bilayers. Physiological implications of proton movement accompanying fast movement of un-ionized lipophilic acids (and the consequent generation of a pH gradient) are discussed.[1]


  1. Movement of fatty acids, fatty acid analogues, and bile acids across phospholipid bilayers. Kamp, F., Hamilton, J.A., Kamp, F., Westerhoff, H.V., Hamilton, J.A. Biochemistry (1993) [Pubmed]
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