Osmotic and pH transmembrane gradients control the lytic power of melittin

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Transmembrane osmotic gradients applied on large unilamellar 1-palmitoyl- 2-oleoyl-phosphatidylcholine vesicles were used to modulate the potency of melittin to induce leakage. Melittin, an amphipathic peptide, changes the permeability of vesicles, as studied using the release of entrapped calcein, a fluorescent marker. A promotion of the ability of melittin to induce leakage was observed when a hyposomotic gradient (i.e., internal salt concentration higher than the external one) was imposed on the vesicles. It is proposed that structural perturbations caused by the osmotic pressure loosen the compactness of the outer leaflet, which facilitates the melittin- induced change in membrane permeability. Additionally, we have shown that this phenomenon is not due to enhanced binding of melittin to the vesicles using intrinsic fluorescence of the melittin tryptophan. Furthermore, we investigated the possibility of using a transmembrane pH gradient to control the lyric activity of melittin. The potency of melittin in inducing release is known to be inhibited by increased negative surface charge density. A transmembrane pH gradient causing an asymmetric distribution of unprotonated palmitic acid in the bilayer is shown to be an efficient way to modulate the lyric activity of melittin, without changing the overall lipid composition of the membrane. We demonstrate that the protective effect of negatively charged lipids is preserved for asymmetric membranes.




Benachir, T., & Lafleur, M. (1996). Osmotic and pH transmembrane gradients control the lytic power of melittin. Biophysical Journal, 70(2 I), 831–840. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0006-3495(96)79622-4

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