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Journal Article

(In)validity of the constant field and constant currents assumptions in theories of ion transport


Von Kitzing,  Eberhard
Department of Cell Physiology, Max Planck Institute for Medical Research, Max Planck Society;

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Syganov, A., & Von Kitzing, E. (1999). (In)validity of the constant field and constant currents assumptions in theories of ion transport. Biophysical Journal, 76(2), 768-781. doi:10.1016/S0006-3495(99)77242-5.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0024-A277-2
Constant electric fields and constant ion currents are often considered in theories of ion transport. Therefore, it is important to understand the validity of these helpful concepts. The constant field assumption requires that the charge density of permeant ions and flexible polar groups is virtually voltage independent. We present analytic relations that indicate the conditions under which the constant field approximation applies. Barrier models are frequently fitted to experimental current−voltage curves to describe ion transport. These models are based on three fundamental characteristics: a constant electric field, negligible concerted motions of ions inside the channel (an ion can enter only an empty site), and concentration−independent energy profiles. An analysis of those fundamental assumptions of barrier models shows that those approximations require large barriers because the electrostatic interaction is strong and has a long range. In the constant currents assumption, the current of each permeating ion species is considered to be constant throughout the channel; thus ion pairing is explicitly ignored. In inhomogeneous steady−state systems, the association rate constant determines the strength of ion pairing. Among permeable ions, however, the ion association rate constants are not small, according to modern diffusion−limited reaction rate theories. A mathematical formulation of a constant currents condition indicates that ion pairing very likely has an effect but does not dominate ion transport