The mechanism for transport of divalent cations across phospholipid bilayers by the ionophore A23187 was investigated. The intrinsic fluorescence of the ionophore was used in equilibrium and rapid-mixing experiments as an indicator of ionophore environment and complexation with divalent cations. The neutral (protonated) form of the ionophore binds strongly to the membrane, with a high quantum yield relative to that in the aqueous phase. The negatively charged form of the ionophore binds somewhat less strongly, with a lower quantum yield, and does not move across the membrane. Complexation of the negatively charged form with divalent cations was measured by the decrease in fluorescence. An apparent rate constant (kapp) for transport of the ionophore across the membrane was determined from the rate of fluorescence changes observed in stopped-flow rapid kinetic experiments. The variation of kapp was studied as a function of pH, temperature, ionophore concentration, membrane lipid composition, and divalent cation concentration and type. Analysis and comparison with equilibrium constants for protonation and complexation show that A23187 and its metal:ionophore complexes bind near the membrane-water interface in the lipid polar-head region. The interfacial reactions occur rapidly, compared with the transmembrane reactions, and are thus in equilibrium during transport. The transport cycle can be described as follows: a 1:1 complex is formed between the membrane bound A23187-(Am-) and the aqueous divalent cation with dissociation constant K1 approximately 4.6 x 10(-4) M. This is in equilibrium with a 1:2 (metal:ionophore) complex (K2 approximately 3.0 x 10(-4) [ionophore/lipid]) that is responsible for transporting the divalent cations across the membrane. The rate constant for translocation of the 1:2 complex is 0.1–0.3 s-1. Dissociation of the complex of the trans side and protonation occur rapidly. The rate constant for translocation of H+ . A23187- is 28 s-1. A theory is presented that is capable of reproducing the kinetic data at any calcium concentration. The cation specificity for ionophore complex transport (kapp), determined at low ionophore concentration for a series of divalent cations, was found to be proportional to the equilibrium constant for 1:1 complexation. The order of ion specificity for these processes was found to be Ca2+ greater than Mg2+ greater Sr2+ greater than Ba2+. Interactions with Na+ were not observed. Maximal values of kapp were observed for vesicles prepared from pure dimyristoyl phosphatidylcholine. Inclusion of phosphatidyl ethanolamine, phosphatidic acid, or dipalmatoyl phosphatidylcholine resulted in lower values of kapp. Calcium transport by A23187 is compared with that of X537A, and it is shown that the former is 67-fold faster. The difference in rates is due to differences in the ability of each ionophore to form a 1:2 complex from a 1:1 complex.
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