When protoplasm dies it becomes completely and irreversibly permeable and this may be used as a criterion of death. On this basis we may say that when 0.2 M formaldehyde plus 0.001 M NaCl is applied to Nitella death arrives sooner at the inner protoplasmic surface than at the outer.
If, however, we apply 0.17 M formaldehyde plus 0.01 M KCl death arrives sooner at the outer protoplasmic surface.
The difference appears to be due largely to the conditions at the two surfaces. With 0.2 M formaldehyde plus 0.001 M NaCl the inner surface is subject to a greater electrical pressure than the outer and is in contact with a higher concentration of KCl. In the other case these conditions are more nearly equal so that the layer first reached by the reagent is the first to become permeable.
The outer protoplasmic surface has the ability to distinguish electrically between K+ and Na+ (potassium effect). Under the influence of formaldehyde this ability is lost. This is chiefly due to a falling off in the partition coefficient of KCl in the outer protoplasmic surface.
At about the same time the inner protoplasmic surface becomes completely permeable. But the outer protoplasmic surface retains its ability to distinguish electrically between different concentrations of the same salt, showing that it has not become completely permeable.
After the potential has disappeared the turgidity (hydrostatic pressure inside the cell) persists for some time, probably because the outer protoplasmic surface has not become completely permeable.