Intrinsic Membrane Permeability to Small Molecules
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Spontaneous solute and solvent permeation through membranes is of vital importance to human life, be it gas exchange in red blood cells, metabolite excretion, drug/toxin uptake, or water homeostasis. Knowledge of the underlying molecular mechanisms is the sine qua non of every functional assignment to membrane transporters. The basis of our current solubility diffusion model was laid by Meyer and Overton. It correlates the solubility of a substance in an organic phase with its membrane permeability. Since then, a wide range of studies challenging this rule have appeared. Commonly, the discrepancies have their origin in ill-used measurement approaches, as we demonstrate on the example of membrane CO2 transport. On the basis of the insight that scanning electrochemical microscopy offered into solute concentration distributions in immediate membrane vicinity of planar membranes, we analyzed the interplay between chemical reactions and diffusion for solvent transport, weak acid permeation, and enzymatic reactions adjacent to membranes. We conclude that buffer reactions must also be considered in spectroscopic investigations of weak acid transport in vesicular suspensions. The evaluation of energetic contributions to membrane translocation of charged species demonstrates the compatibility of the resulting membrane current with the solubility diffusion model. A local partition coefficient that depends on membrane penetration depth governs spontaneous membrane translocation of both charged and uncharged molecules. It is determined not only by the solubility in an organic phase but also by other factors like cholesterol concentration and intrinsic electric membrane potentials.
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