Transport of K+ and other cations across phospholipid membranes by nonesterified fatty acids

Martyn A. Sharpe, C. E. Cooper, J. M. Wrigglesworth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


The rate of change of internal pH and transmembrane potential has been monitored in liposomes following the external addition of various cation salts. Oleic acid increases the transmembrane movement of H+ following the imposition of a K+ gradient. An initial fast change in internal pH is seen followed by a slower rate of alkalinization. High concentrations of the fatty acid enhance the rate comparable to that seen in the presence of nigericin in contrast to the effect of FCCP (carbonyl cyanide p-(tri-fluoromethoxy)phenyl hydrazone) which saturates at an intermediate value. The ability of nonesterified fatty acids to catalyze the movement of cations across the liposome membrane increases with the degree of unsaturation and decreases with increasing chain length. Li and Na salts cause a similar initial fast pH change but have less effect on the subsequent slower rate. Similarly, the main effect of divalent cation salts is on the initial fast change. The membrane potential can enhance or inhibit cation transport depending on its polarity with respect to the cation gradient. It is concluded that nonesterified fatty acids have the capability to complex with, and transport, a variety of cations across phospholipid bilayers. However, they do not act simply as proton/cation exchangers analogous to nigericin nor as protonophores analogous to FCCP. The full cycle of ionophoric action involves a combination of both functions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)21-28
Number of pages8
JournalThe Journal of Membrane Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1 1994


  • Cation transport
  • Fatty acids
  • Liposomes
  • Membrane transport

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Cell Biology
  • Biophysics


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