Theory of passive permeability through lipid bilayers

J Gen Physiol. 2008 Jan;131(1):77-85. doi: 10.1085/jgp.200709849.


Recently measured water permeability through bilayers of different lipids is most strongly correlated with the area per lipid A rather than with other structural quantities such as the thickness. This paper presents a simple three-layer theory that incorporates the area dependence in a physically realistic way and also includes the thickness as a secondary modulating parameter. The theory also includes the well-known strong correlation of permeability upon the partition coefficients of general solutes in hydrocarbon environments (Overton's rule). Two mathematical treatments of the theory are given; one model uses discrete chemical kinetics and one model uses the Nernst-Planck continuum equation. The theory is fit to the recent experiments on water permeability in the accompanying paper.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Cell Membrane Permeability
  • Lipid Bilayers* / chemistry
  • Membranes, Artificial*
  • Models, Biological
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Permeability
  • Phosphatidylcholines / analysis
  • Water*


  • Lipid Bilayers
  • Membranes, Artificial
  • Phosphatidylcholines
  • Water