Rates of diffusion of uncharged and charged solute molecules through porin channels were determined by using liposomes reconstituted from egg phosphatidylcholine and purified Escherichia coli porins OmpF (protein 1a), OmpC (protein 1b), and PhoE (protein E). All three porin proteins appeared to produce channels of similar size, although the OmpF channel appeared to be 7 to 9% larger than the OmpC and PhoE channels in an equivalent radius. Hydrophobicity of the solute retarded the penetration through all three channels in a similar manner. The presence of one negative charge on the solute resulted in about a threefold reduction in penetration rates through OmpF and OmpC channels, whereas it produced two- to tenfold acceleration of diffusion through the PhoE channel. The addition of the second negatively charged group to the solutes decreased the diffusion rates through OmpF and OmpC channels further, whereas diffusion through the PhoE channel was not affected much. These results suggest that PhoE specializes in the uptake of negatively charged solutes. At the present level of resolution, no sign of true solute specificity was found in OmpF and OmpC channels; peptides, for example, diffused through both of these channels at rates expected from their molecular size, hydrophobicity, and charge. However, the OmpF porin channel allowed influx of more solute molecules per unit time than did the equivalent weight of the OmpC porin when the flux was driven by a concentration gradient of the same size. This apparent difference in "efficiency" became more pronounced with larger solutes, and it is likely to be the consequence of the difference in the sizes of OmpF and OmpC channels.
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