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Many drugs and other small molecules used to modulate biological function are amphiphiles that adsorb at the bilayer/solution interface and thereby alter lipid bilayer properties. This is important because membrane proteins are energetically coupled to their host bilayer by hydrophobic interactions. Changes in bilayer properties thus alter membrane protein function, which provides an indirect way for amphiphiles to modulate protein function and a possible mechanism for "off-target" drug effects. We have previously developed an electrophysiological assay for detecting changes in lipid bilayer properties using linear gramicidin channels as probes. Gramicidin channels are mini-proteins formed by the transbilayer dimerization of two non-conducting subunits. They are sensitive to changes in their membrane environment, which makes them powerful probes for monitoring changes in lipid bilayer properties as sensed by bilayer spanning proteins. We now demonstrate a fluorescence assay for detecting changes in bilayer properties using the same channels as probes. The assay is based on measuring the time-course of fluorescence quenching from fluorophore-loaded large unilamellar vesicles due to the entry of a quencher through the gramicidin channels. We use the fluorescence indicator/quencher pair 8-aminonaphthalene-1,3,6-trisulfonate (ANTS)/Tl(+) that has been successfully used in other fluorescence quenching assays. Tl(+) permeates the lipid bilayer slowly but passes readily through conducting gramicidin channels. The method is scalable and suitable for both mechanistic studies and high-throughput screening of small molecules for bilayer-perturbing, and potential "off-target", effects. We find that results using this method are in good agreement with previous electrophysiological results.


Helgi I Ingólfsson, R Lea Sanford, Ruchi Kapoor, Olaf S Andersen. Gramicidin-based fluorescence assay; for determining small molecules potential for modifying lipid bilayer properties. Journal of visualized experiments : JoVE. 2010(44)

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PMID: 20972414

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