We establish high-sensitivity isothermal titration calorimetry (ITC) as a fast, reliable, and versatile tool for assessing membrane translocation of charged compounds. A combination of ITC uptake and release titrations can discriminate between the two extreme cases of half-sided binding and complete transbilayer equilibration on the experimental time scale. To this end, we derive a general fit function for both assays that allows for incorporation of different membrane partitioning models. Electrostatic effects are taken into account with the aid of Gouy-Chapman theory, thus rendering uptake and release experiments amenable to the investigation of charged solutes. This is exemplified for the flip-flop of the anionic detergent sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS) across the membranes of 100-nm-diameter unilamellar vesicles composed of 1-palmitoyl-2-oleoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine (POPC) in aqueous solution (10 mM phosphate buffer, 154 mM NaCl, pH 7.4). If repulsive electrostatic forces are accounted for adequately, SDS binding to POPC membranes can be evaluated on the basis of ideal mixing in all phases. At 25 degrees C, the intrinsic partition coefficient between the interfacial aqueous phase and the membrane amounts to 3.5 x 10(6); however, detergent flip-flop is negligibly slow under these conditions. Raising the temperature to 65 degrees C lowers the intrinsic partition coefficient to 1.4 x 10(6) but enables rapid transbilayer distribution of the detergent and, therefore, binding to or desorption from both membrane leaflets. Thus, combining a surface partition equilibrium with simple electrostatic theory appears highly useful in monitoring transmembrane movement of ionic compounds by ITC, thereby eliminating the need for specific reporter groups.
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