Determinants of water permeability through nanoscopic hydrophilic channels

Biophys J. 2009 Feb;96(3):925-38. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2008.09.059.


Naturally occurring pores show a variety of polarities and sizes that are presumably directly linked to their biological function. Many biological channels are selective toward permeants similar or smaller in size than water molecules, and therefore their pores operate in the regime of single-file water pores. Intrinsic factors affecting water permeability through such pores include the channel-membrane match, the structural stability of the channel, the channel geometry and channel-water affinity. We present an extensive molecular dynamics study on the role of the channel geometry and polarity on the water osmotic and diffusive permeability coefficients. We show that the polarity of the naturally occurring peptidic channels is close to optimal for water permeation, and that the water mobility for a wide range of channel polarities is essentially length independent. By systematically varying the geometry and polarity of model hydrophilic pores, based on the fold of gramicidin A, the water density, occupancy, and permeability are studied. Our focus is on the characterization of the transition between different permeation regimes in terms of the structure of water in the pores, the average pore occupancy and the dynamics of the permeating water molecules. We show that a general relationship between osmotic and diffusive water permeability coefficients in the single-file regime accounts for the time averaged pore occupancy, and that the dynamics of the permeating water molecules through narrow non single file channels effectively behaves like independent single-file columns.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Membrane Permeability*
  • Diffusion
  • Ion Channels / chemistry*
  • Ion Channels / metabolism*
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Conformation
  • Nanotechnology*
  • Osmosis
  • Peptides / chemistry
  • Peptides / metabolism
  • Porosity
  • Water / metabolism*


  • Ion Channels
  • Peptides
  • Water