Discrete fluctuations in conductance of lipid bilayer membranes may be observed during the initial stages of membrane interaction with EIM ("excitability inducing material"), during destruction of the EIM conductance by proteolysis, and during the potential-dependent transitions between low and high conductance states in the "excitable" membranes. The discrete conductance steps observed during the initial reaction of EIM with the lipid membranes are remarkably uniform, even in membranes of widely varying lipid composition. They range only from 2 to 6 x 10-10 ohm-1 and average 4 x 10-10 ohm-1. Steps found during destruction of the EIM conductance by proteolysis are somewhat smaller. The transition between high conductance and low conductance states may involve steps as small as 0.5 x 10-10 ohm-1. These phenomena are consistent with the formation of a stable protein bridge across the lipid membrane to provide a polar channel for the transport of cations. T6he uniform conductance fluctuations observed during the formation of these macromolecular channels may indicate that the ions in a conductive channel, in its open state, are largely protected from the influence of the polar groups of the membrane lipids. Potential-dependent changes in conductance may be due to configurational or positional changes in the protein channel. Differences in lipid-lipid and lipid-macromolecule interactions may account for the variations in switching kinetics in various membrane systems.

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