Channels formed by colicin E1 in planar lipid bilayers are large and exhibit pH-dependent ion selectivity

Lynn Raymond, Stephen L. Slatin, Alan Finkelstein

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67 Scopus citations


The E1 subgroup (E1, A, Ib, etc.) of antibacterial toxins called colicins are known to form voltage-dependent channels in planar lipid bilayers. The genes for colicins E1, A and Ib have been cloned and sequenced, making these channels interesting models for the widespread phenomenon of voltage dependence in cellular channels. In this paper we investigate ion selectivity and channel size-properties relevant to model building. Our major finding is that the colicin E1 channel is large, having a diameter of at least 8 Å at its narrowest point. We established this from measurements of reversal potentials for gradients formed by salts of large cations or large anions. In so doing, we exploited the fact that the colicin channel is permeable to both cations and anions, and its relative selectivity to them is a functions and anions, and its relative selectivity to them is a function of pH. The channel is anion selective (Cl- over K+) in neutral membranes, and the degree of selectivity is highly dependent on pH. In negatively charged membranes, it becomes cation selective at pH's higher than about 5. Experiments with pH gradients cross the membrane suggest that titratable groups both within the channel lumen and near the channel ends affect the selectivity. Individual E1 channels have more than one open conductance state, all displaying comparable ion selectivity. Colicins A and Ib also exhibit pH-dependent ion selectivity, and appear to have even larger lumens than E1.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)173-181
Number of pages9
JournalThe Journal of Membrane Biology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 1 1985



  • channel size
  • colicins
  • ion selectivity
  • lipid bilayers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Physiology
  • Cell Biology

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