Evidence of the Key Role of H<inf>3</inf>O<sup>+</sup> in Phospholipid Membrane Morphology

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Langmuir, 2016, 32 (41), pp. 10725 - 10734
Issue Date:
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© 2016 American Chemical Society. This study explains the importance of the phosphate moiety and H3O+ in controlling the ionic flux through phospholipid membranes. We show that despite an increase in the H3O+ concentration when the pH is decreased, the level of ionic conduction through phospholipid bilayers is reduced. By modifying the lipid structure, we show the dominant determinant of membrane conduction is the hydrogen bonding between the phosphate oxygens on adjacent phospholipids. The modulation of conduction with pH is proposed to arise from the varying H3O+ concentrations altering the molecular area per lipid and modifying the geometry of conductive defects already present in the membrane. Given the geometrical constraints that control the lipid phase structure of membranes, these area changes predict that organisms evolving in environments with different pHs will select for different phospholipid chain lengths, as is found for organisms near highly acidic volcanic vents (short chains) or in highly alkaline salt lakes (long chains). The stabilizing effect of the hydration shells around phosphate groups also accounts for the prevalence of phospholipids across biology. Measurement of ion permeation through lipid bilayers was made tractable using sparsely tethered bilayer lipid membranes with swept frequency electrical impedance spectroscopy and ramped dc amperometry. Additional evidence of the effect of a change in pH on lipid packing density is obtained from neutron reflectometry data of tethered membranes containing perdeuterated lipids.
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