We present and discuss the permeability and electrical properties of thin lipid membranes, and the changes induced in these properties by several agents added to the aqueous phases after the membranes have formed. The unmodified membrane is virtually impermeable to ions and small "hydrophilic" solutes, but relatively permeable to water and "lipophilic" molecules. These properties are consistent with those predicted for a thin film of hydrocarbon through which matter is transported by dissolving in the membrane phase and then diffusing through it. The effect of cholesterol in reducing the water and "lipophilic" solute permeability is attributed to an increase of the "viscosity" of the hydrocarbon region, thus reducing the diffusion coefficient of molecules within this phase. The selective permeability of the membrane to iodide (I-) in the presence of iodine (I2) is attributed to the formation of polyiodides (perhaps I5-), which are presumed to be relatively soluble in the membrane because of their large size, and hence lower surface charge density. Thus, I2 acts as a carrier for I-. The effects of "excitability-inducing material" and the depsipeptides (particularly valinomycin) on ion permeability are reviewed. The effects of the polyene antibiotics (nystatin and amphotericin B) on ion permeability, discussed in greater detail, are the following: (a) membrane conductance increases with the 10th power of nystatin concentration; (b) the membrane is anion-selective but does not discriminate completely between anions and cations; (c) the membrane discriminates among anions on the basis of size; (d) membrane conductance decreases extraordinarily with increasing temperatures. Valinomycin and nystatin form independent conductance pathways in the same membrane, and, in the presence of both, the membrane can be reversibly shifted between a cation and anion permeable state by changes in temperature. It is suggested that nystatin produces pores in the membrane and valinomycin acts as a carrier.

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