Distinction between dipolar and inductive effects in modulating the conductance of gramicidin channels
The ion permeability of transmembrane channels formed by the linear gramicidins is altered by amino acid sequence substitutions. We have previously shown that the polarity of the side chain at position one is important in modulating a channel's conductance and ion selectivity [Russel et al. (1986) Biophys. J. 49, 673-686]. Changes in polarity could alter ion permeability by (through-space) ion-dipole interactions or by (through-bond) inductive electron shifts. We have addressed this question by investigating the permeability characteristics of channels formed by gramicidins where the NH2-terminal amino acid is either phenylalanine or one of a series of substituted phenylalanines: p-hydroxy-, p-methoxy-, o-fluoro-, m-fluoro-, or p-fluorophenylalanine. The electron-donating or -withdrawing nature, as quantified by the Hammett constant, ranges from -0.37 to +0.34 for these side chains. Channels formed by these gramicidins show a more than 2.5-fold variation in their Na+ conductance, but the conductance variations do not rank in the order of the Hammett constants of the side chains. Inductive effects cannot therefore be of primary importance in the modulation of the gramicidin single-channel conductance by these side chains. The results support previous suggestions that electrostatic interactions between side chain dipoles and permeating ions can modify the energy profile for ion movement through the gramicidin channel and thus alter the conductance.