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Ion transport through chemically induced pores in protein-free phospholipid membranes

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


Journal publication date29/11/2007
JournalJournal of Physical Chemistry B
Number of pages4
Original languageEnglish


We address the possibility of being able to induce the trafficking of salt ions and other solutes across cell membranes without the use of specific protein-based transporters or pumps. On the basis of realistic atomic-scale molecular dynamics simulations, we demonstrate that transmembrane ionic leakage can be initiated by chemical means, in this instance through addition of dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO), a solvent widely used in cell biology. Our results provide compelling evidence that the small amphiphilic solute DMSO is able to induce transient defects (water pores) in membranes and to promote a subsequent diffusive pore-mediated transport of salt ions. The findings are consistent with available experimental data and offer a molecularlevel explanation for the experimentally observed activities of DMSO solvent as an efficient penetration enhancer and a cryoprotectant, as well as an analgesic. Our findings suggest that transient pore formation by chemical means could emerge as an important general principle for therapeutics.