Nonesterified fatty acids are key intermediates in cellular metabolism whose intracellular concentration is regulated by multiple anabolic, catabolic, and oxidative enzymatic cascades. Herein, we demonstrate that fatty acids induce transmembrane monovalent cation flux with an apparent rate constant k(app) = 10-4 - 10-3 s-1. Fatty acid-induced cation efflux exploits the ionic association of the cation with the carboxylate anion of the fatty acid and the subsequent transmembrane flip-flop of the fatty acid - cation complex. Rates of fatty acid-induced transmembrane cation flux were dependent upon complex host-guest interactions between the fatty acid-cation complex and the phospholipid constituents which comprise the membrane bilayer including (1) the degree of unsaturation of the fatty acid guest and the regiospecificity and stereospecificity of its olefinic linkages; (2) the phospholipid subclass and individual molecular species which constitute the host membrane phospholipids; (3) impedance matching of host and guest hydrophobic characteristics; and (4) the cholesterol content of the membrane bilayer. Arrhenius analysis demonstrated that fatty acid-induced K+ efflux was facilitated largely by changes in the entropy of activation of ion translocation and not the energy of activation. Moreover, Arrhenius analysis demonstrated that the energy of activation of ion translocation was phospholipid subclass specific. For example, arachidonic acid-induced cation efflux in membranes comprised of 16:0-18:1 plasmenylcholine possessed an E(a) = 5.3 ± 0.4 kcal/mol, while that for 16:0-18:1 phosphatidylcholine was 7.2 ± 0.5 kcal/mol. Electrophysiologic measurements of planar lipid membranes containing 10 mol % arachidonic acid as a substitutional impurity confirmed the ability of physiologically relevant amounts of fatty acid to induce ion translocation with a specific conductance of 2.6 ± 0.3 μS/cm2. Collectively, these results demonstrate that fatty acids facilitate transmembrane cation flux by an ion carrier type mechanism and suggest that fatty acid-mediated ion transport contributes to the leakage current present in many cell types and thus potentially modulates cellular responsivity during signal transduction where the intracellular content of fatty acids changes dramatically.
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