Optically black, thin lipid membranes prepared from sheep erythrocyte lipids have a high dc resistance (Rm ≅ 108 ohm-cm2) when the bathing solutions contain NaCl or KCl. The ionic transference numbers (Ti) indicate that these membranes are cation-selective (TNa ≅ 0.85; TCl ≅ 0.15). These electrical properties are independent of the cholesterol content of the lipid solutions from which the membranes are formed. Nystatin, and probably amphotericin B, are cyclic polyene antibiotics containing ≈36 ring atoms and a free amino and carboxyl group. When the lipid solutions used to form membranes contained equimolar amounts of cholesterol and phospholipid, these antibiotics reduced Rm to ≈102 ohm-cm2; concomitantly, TCl became ≅0.92. The slope of the line relating log Rm and log antibiotic concentration was ≅4.5. Neither nystatin (2 x 10-5 M) nor amphotericin B (2 x 10-7 M) had any effect on membrane stability. The antibiotics had no effect on Rm or membrane permselectivity when the lipids used to form membranes were cholesterol-depleted. Filipin (10-5 M), an uncharged polyene with 28 ring atoms, produced striking membrane instability, but did not affect Rm or membrane ionic selectivity. These data suggest that amphotericin B or nystatin may interact with membrane-bound sterols to produce multimolecular complexes which greatly enhance the permeability of such membranes for anions (Cl-, acetate), and, to a lesser degree, cations (Na+, K+, Li+).

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