Differences in the behavior of phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) and phosphatidylglycerol (PG) thin lipid membranes treated with monazomycin are shown to be due to the negative surface charge on PG membranes. We demonstrate that shifts of the conductance-voltage (g-V) characteristic of PG films produced by changes of univalent or divalent cation concentrations result from changes of the membrane surface potential on one or both sides. In particular, if divalent cations are added to the aqueous phase not containing monazomycin, the resulting asymmetry of the surface potentials results in an intramembrane potential difference not recordable by electrodes in the bulk phases. Nevertheless, this intramembrane potential difference is "seen" by the monazomycin, and consequently the g-V characteristic is shifted along the voltage axis. These changes are accounted for by diffuse double layer theory. Thus we find it unnecessary to invoke specific binding of Mg++ or Ca++ to the negative charges of PG membranes to explain the observation that concentrations of these ions some 100-fold lower than that of the univalent cation present produce large shifts of the g-V characteristic. We suggest that analogous shifts of g-V characteristics in axons produced by changes of divalent cation concentration are also best explained by diffuse double layer theory.

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