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Polymeric nonelectrolytes to probe pore geometry: application to the alpha-toxin transmembrane channel.

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  • Biology
  • Mathematics


Asymmetrical (one-sided) application of penetrating water-soluble polymers, polyethylene glycols (PEGs), to a well-defined channel formed by Staphylococcus aureus alpha-toxin is shown to probe channel pore geometry in more detail than their symmetrical (two-sided) application. Polymers added to the cis side of the planar lipid membrane (the side of protein addition) affect channel conductance differently than polymers added to the trans side. Because a satisfactory theory quantitatively describing PEG partitioning into a channel pore does not exist, we apply the simple empirical rules proposed previously (, J. Membr. Biol. 161:83-92) to gauge the size of pore openings as well as the size and position of constrictions along the pore axis. We estimate the radii of the two openings of the channel to be practically identical and equal to 1. 2-1.3 nm. Two apparent constrictions with radii of approximately 0. 9 nm and approximately 0.6-0.7 nm are inferred to be present in the channel lumen, the larger one being closer to the cis side. These structural findings agree well with crystallographic data on the channel structure (, Science. 274:1859-1866) and verify the practicality of polymer probing. The general features of PEG partitioning are examined using available theoretical considerations, assuming there is no attraction between PEG and the channel lumen. It is shown that the sharp dependence of the partition coefficient on polymer molecular weight found under both symmetrical and asymmetrical polymer application can be rationalized within a "hard sphere nonideal solution model." This finding is rather surprising because PEG forms highly flexible coils in water with a Kuhn length of only several Angstroms.


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