On the supramolecular organization of gramicidin channels. The elementary conducting unit is a dimer
The question, whether the conducting channels formed by the linear gramicidins are dimers (as is generally believed) or tetramers (as has been recently proposed [Stark G., M. Strässle, and Z. Takacz. 1986. J. Membr. Biol. 89:23-37; Strässle, M., G. Stark, M. Wilhelm, P. Daumas, F. Heitz, and R. Lazaro. 1989. Biochim. Biophys. Acta. 980:305-314]) has been addressed in single-channel experiments. The experimental approach was based on the ability of electrophysiological (single-channel) experiments to resolve the number of hybrid channel types that could form between gramicidin A or C and O-pyromellityl-gramicidin A or C (in which a pyromellitic acid residue has been esterified to the ethanolamine-OH group [Apell, H.-J., E. Bamberg, H. Alpes, and P. Läuger. 1977. J. Membr. Biol. 31:171-188]). The presence of the bulky, negatively charged pyromellityl group at the channel entrances endows the hybrid channels with characteristically different features and thus facilitates the resolution of the different hybrid channel types. Only two hybrid channel types were detected, indicating that the conducting channels are membrane-spanning dimers. There was likewise no evidence for lateral association between conducting channels and nonconducting monomers. These results can be reconciled with those of Stark et al. (op. cit.) if gramicidin channel formation involves a (slow) folding into beta 6.3-helical monomers followed by the dimerization step.