Estimation with an ion-selective electrode of the membrane potential in cells of Paracoccus denitrificans from the uptake of the butyltriphenylphosphonium cation during aerobic and anaerobic respiration

Biochem J. 1981 Apr 15;196(1):311-21. doi: 10.1042/bj1960311.


1. Aerobic respiration by cells of Paracoccus dentrificans drives the uptake of the lipophilic cation butyltriphenylphosphonium. Anaerobiosis or addition of an uncoupler of oxidative phosphorylation (carbonyl cyanide p-trifluoromethoxyphenylhydrazone) results in efflux of the cation. Changes in the concentration of butyltriphenylphosphonium in the suspension medium were measured by using an ion-selective electrode, the construction of which is described. 2. If the uptake of butyltriphenylphosphonium is used as an indicator of membrane potential, then at pH 7.3 an estimate of about 160 mV is obtained for cells of P. dentrificans respiring aerobically in 100 mM-Hepes [4-(2-hydroxyethyl)-1-piperazine-ethanesulphonic acid/NaOH or 100mM-NaH2PO4/NaOH. This potential, however, is decreased by more than 20 mV in reaction media containing a high concentration of phosphate (100 mM) together with at least 1 mM-K+. 3. Anaerobic electron transport with NO3-, NO2- or N2O as terminal electron acceptor generates a membrane potential of about 150mV in described suspension media. The presence of these species under aerobic conditions, moreover, has negligible effect upon the extent of uptake of butyltriphenylphosphonium normally driven by aerobic respiration. These data indicate that none of these molecules exert a significant uncoupling effect on the protonmotive force. 4. No 204Tl+ uptake into respiring cells was detected. This adds to the evidence that 204Tl+ is not a freely permeable cation in bacterial cells and therefore not an indicator of membrane potential as has been proposed. The absence of respiration-driven 204Tl+ uptake indicates that P. denitrificans cells grown under the conditions specified in the present work do not possess K+-transport systems of either the Kdp or TrkA types that have been described in Escherichia coli.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aerobiosis / drug effects
  • Anaerobiosis / drug effects
  • Cations, Monovalent / pharmacology
  • Electrodes
  • Membrane Potentials / drug effects
  • Nitrogen Oxides / pharmacology
  • Onium Compounds*
  • Organophosphorus Compounds / metabolism*
  • Oxygen Consumption / drug effects
  • Paracoccus denitrificans / drug effects
  • Paracoccus denitrificans / metabolism*
  • Paracoccus denitrificans / physiology


  • Cations, Monovalent
  • Nitrogen Oxides
  • Onium Compounds
  • Organophosphorus Compounds
  • butyltriphenylphosphonium