The bactericidal action of colicins K, E1, Ia, and other functionally related colicins involves disruption of active transport and leakage of ions from the cell. We show that a single colicin K molecule can form a voltage-dependent, relatively nonselective, ion-permeable channel of a few picosiemens conductance in a planar phospholipid bilayer membrane. In a membrane containing many of these channels, the ratio of the number of conducting to nonconducting channels changes e-fold per 3.7 mV. We suggest that the physiological effects of colicin K and functionally related colicins result from their ability to form ion-permeable channels in the bacterial plasma membrane.
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