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Is the mammalian cell plasma membrane a barrier to oxygen transport? J Gen Physiol 1992 Jul;100(1):69-87



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Oxygen transport in the Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) plasma membrane has been studied by observing the collision of molecular oxygen with nitroxide radical spin labels placed in the lipid bilayer portion of the membrane at various distances from the membrane surface using the long-pulse saturation-recovery electron spin resonance (ESR) technique. The collision rate was estimated for 5-, 12-, and 16-doxylstearic acids from spin-lattice relaxation times (T1) measured in the presence and absence of molecular oxygen. Profiles of the local oxygen transport parameters across the membrane were obtained showing that the oxygen diffusion-concentration product is lower than in water for all locations at 37 degrees C. From oxygen transport parameter profiles, the membrane oxygen permeability coefficients were estimated according to the procedure developed earlier by Subczynski et al. (Subczynski, W. K., J. S. Hyde, and A. Kusumi. 1989. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA. 86:4474-4478). At 37 degrees C, the oxygen permeability coefficient for the plasma membrane was found to be 42 cm/s, about two times lower than for a water layer of the same thickness as the membrane. The oxygen concentration difference across the CHO plasma membrane at physiological conditions is in the nanomolar range. It is concluded that oxygen permeation across the cell plasma membrane cannot be a rate-limiting step for cellular respiration. Correlations of the form PM = cKs between membrane permeabilities PM of small nonelectrolyte solutes of mol wt less than 50, including oxygen, and their partition coefficients K into hexadecane and olive oil are reported. Hexadecane: c = 26 cm/s, s = 0.95; olive oil: c = 23 cm/s, s = 1.56. These values of c and s differ from those reported in the literature for solutes of 50 less than mol wt less than 300 (Walter, A., and J. Gutknecht. 1986. Journal of Membrane Biology. 90:207-217). It is concluded that oxygen permeability through membranes can be reliably predicted from measurement of partition coefficients.

Author List

Subczynski WK, Hopwood LE, Hyde JS


Witold K. Subczynski PhD Professor in the Biophysics department at Medical College of Wisconsin

MESH terms used to index this publication - Major topics in bold

CHO Cells
Cell Membrane
Electron Spin Resonance Spectroscopy
Oxygen Consumption
Spin Labels