Diffusional Transport of Toxic Materials in Membranes Studied by Fluorescence Spectroscopy

  • Joseph R. Lakowicz
  • Delman Hogan
Part of the Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology book series (AEMB, volume 84)


As a nation we are currently concerned with the effects of a multitude of synthetic chemicals on life processes. The diversity of opinions on these issues reflects, in part, a lack of understanding of the molecular aspects of toxicity and bioaccumulation. Integral to these concerns is the effect of toxic materials on cell membranes and the permeability barriers which these membranes impose to xenobiotics.

Fluorescence spectroscopy provides a powerful tool for investigating many aspects of membrane sensitivity to toxic materials. Chlorinated hydrocarbons, olefins, and amines act as diffusional quenchers of fluorescence. Measurement of the fluorescence lifetimes of probes embedded in biological membranes can reveal the probe-quencher collisional frequency, and hence the xenobiotic’s diffusion coefficient in the membrane. Such information, coupled with the rates of exchange of foreign materials between serum proteins and membranes, may possibly allow predictions of the bioaccumulation potential of toxic materials.

Fluorescence quenching studies can also be used to determine the xenobiotic’s membrane-water partition coefficient. A range of values from 10 to 108 appear to be experimentally accessible. Localization of foreign materials in either the glycerol or acyl side chain region of a membrane may be revealed by investigations using localized fluorescent probes. In favorable circumstances it appears likely that one can measure both the xenobiotic’s lateral diffusion rate across the membrane’s surface and the transport rate through the bilayer.


Fluorescence Quenching Fluorescence Lifetime DIFFUSIONAL Transport Quencher Concentration Toxic Material 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1977

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joseph R. Lakowicz
    • 1
  • Delman Hogan
    • 1
  1. 1.Freshwater Biological InstituteUniversity of MinnesotaNavarreUSA

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