Channels in mitochondrial membranes: knowns, unknowns, and prospects for the future

M C Sorgato, O Moran
Critical Reviews in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology 1993, 28 (2): 127-71
Rapid diffusion of hydrophilic molecules across the outer membrane of mitochondria has been related to the presence of a protein of 29 to 37 kDa, called voltage-dependent anion channel (VDAC), able to generate large aqueous pores when integrated in planar lipid bilayers. Functional properties of VDAC from different origins appear highly conserved in artificial membranes: at low transmembrane potentials, the channel is in a highly conducting state, but a raise of the potential (both positive and negative) reduces drastically the current and changes the ionic selectivity from slightly anionic to cationic. It has thus been suggested that VDAC is not a mere molecular sieve but that it may control mitochondrial physiology by restricting the access of metabolites of different valence in response to voltage and/or by interacting with a soluble protein of the intermembrane space. The latest application of the patch clamp and tip-dip techniques, however, has indicated both a different electric behavior of the outer membrane and that other proteins may play a role in the permeation of molecules. Biochemical studies, use of site-directed mutants, and electron microscopy of two-dimensional crystal arrays of VDAC have contributed to propose a monomeric beta barrel as the structural model of the channel. An important insight into the physiology of the inner membrane of mammalian mitochondria has come from the direct observation of the membrane with the patch clamp. A slightly anionic, voltage-dependent conductance of 107 pS and one of 9.7 pS, K(+)-selective and ATP-sensitive, are the best characterized at the single channel level. Under certain conditions, however, the inner membrane can also show unselective nS peak transitions, possibly arising from a cooperative assembly of multiple substrates.


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