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Lateral proton migration along membranes (FWF)

Project Leader: Univ.-Prof. Dr. Peter Pohl

FWF Project P25981

1 October 2013 - 30 April 2017

Transmembrane proton concentration gradients drive the mitochondrial ATP-synthase or facilitate transport across the bacterial translocation channel. These gradients differ from their respective counterparts in the bulk because an energy barrier, G, delays proton surface-to-bulk transfer, thereby enabling proton migration towards the respective molecular machine along the membrane surface. This interfacial proton migration is also likely to be important for a variety of other processes, like proton coupled uptake of nutrients, proton delivery to active centers of proteins, and protein folding. According to conflicting theories, proton surface diffusion occurs (i) totally decoupled from bulk or (ii) under conditions of rapid equilibrium between bulk and surface protons. Here we aim to distinguish between both theories. Therefore, we directly observe surface proton diffusion by releasing the protons either instantaneously or gradually at one spot on planar membranes and by detecting their arrival at a distant spot. By identifying the conditions under which transmembrane diffusion may compete with surface-to-bulk release, we will be able to estimate G in a model-independent manner. We will reveal the relative location of the proton pathway with respect to membrane structure by performing the first systematic investigation of proton’s residence time on the interface as a function of membrane surface and dipole potentials. These experiments will also allow dissection of the contributions of these two components toG. The accompanying analysis of electrostatics will help clarify whether the hydroxyl ion might substitute the proton as the migrating species. Testing the affinity of the amphiphilic hydronium to solutes with different hydrophobicities may explain why titratable groups are not required for stabilizing the proton at the surface. Finally, we will demonstrate the importance of the waters of lipid hydration for lateral proton migration by modifying the hydration shell e.g. with osmolytes. Establishing the molecular picture of interfacial proton migration will help to understand a large variety of proton-coupled transport processes.

Protons and Hydroxide Ions in Aqueous Systems
Noam Agmon, Huib J. Bakker, R. Kramer Campen, Richard H. Henchman, Peter Pohl, Sylvie Roke, Martin Thämer, and Ali Hassanali
Chem. Rev. DOI: 10.1021/acs.chemrev.5b00736, 17 June 2016.