Ion movement through gramicidin A channels. Studies on the diffusion-controlled association step
The permeability characteristics of gramicidin A channels are generally considered to reflect accurately the intrinsic properties of the channels themselves; i.e., the aqueous convergence regions are assumed to be negligible barriers for ion movement through the channels. The validity of this assumption has been examined by an analysis of gramicidin A single-channel current-voltage characteristics up to very high potentials (500 mV). At low permeant ion concentrations the currents approach a voltage-independent limiting value, whose magnitude is proportional to the permeant ion concentration. The magnitude of this current is decreased by experimental maneuvers that decrease the aqueous diffusion coefficient of the ions. It is concluded that the magnitude of this limiting current is determined by the diffusive ion movement through the aqueous convergence regions up to the channel entrance. It is further shown that the small-signal (ohmic) permeability properties also reflect the existence of the aqueous diffusion limitation. These results have considerable consequences for the construction of kinetic models for ion movement through gramicidin A channels. It is shown that the simple two-site-three-barrier model commonly used to interpret gramicidin A permeability data may lead to erroneous conclusions, as biionic potentials will be concentration dependent even when the channel is occupied by at most one ion. The aqueous diffusion limitation must be considered explicitly in the analysis of gramicidin A permeability characteristics. Some implications for understanding the properties of ion-conducting channels in biological membranes will be considered.