The solution for the ion flux through a membrane channel that incorporates the electrolyte nature of the aqueous solution is a difficult theoretical problem that, until now, has not been properly formulated. The difficulty arises from the complicated electrostatic problem presented by a high dielectric aqueous channel piercing a low dielectric lipid membrane. The problem is greatly simplified by assuming that the ratio of the dielectric constant of the water to that of the lipid is infinite. It is shown that this is a good approximation for most channels of biological interest. This assumption allows one to derive simple analytical expressions for the Born image potential and the potential from a fixed charge in the channel, and it leads to a differential equation for the potential from the background electrolyte. This leads to a rigorous solution for the ion flux or the equilibrium potential based on a combination of the Nernst-Planck equation and strong electrolyte theory (i.e., Gouy-Chapman or Debye-Huckel). This approach is illustrated by solving the system of equations for the specific case of a large channel containing fixed negative charges. The following characteristics of this channels are discussed: anion and mono- and divalent cation conductance, saturation of current with increasing concentration, current-voltage relationship, influence of location and valence of fixed charge, and interaction between ions. The qualitative behavior of this channel is similar to that of the acetylcholine receptor channel.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported in part by a grant from the National Institutes of Health (GM 25938).