Function and modulation of bacterial porins: insights from electrophysiology

FEMS Microbiol Lett. 1997 Jun 15;151(2):115-23. doi: 10.1111/j.1574-6968.1997.tb12558.x.


Electrophysiological techniques provide a wealth of information regarding the molecular mechanisms that underlie the function and modulation of ion channels. They have revealed that bacterial porins do not behave as static, permanently open pores but display a much more complex and dynamic behavior than anticipated from non-electrophysiological studies. The channels switch between short-lived open and closed conformations (gating activity), and can also remain in an inactivated, non-ion conducting state for prolonged periods of time. Thus the role of porins is not limited to that of a molecular filter, but is extended to the control of outer membrane permeability through the regulation of their activity. Electrophysiological studies have indeed demonstrated that both gating and inactivation are modulated by a variety of physical and chemical parameters and are highly cooperative phenomena, often involving numerous channels working in concert. Cooperativity acts as an amplification mechanism that grants a large population of porins, such as found in the outer membrane, with sensitivity to modulation by external or internal factors. By conferring permeability properties to the outer membrane, porins play a crucial role in the bacterium's antibiotic susceptibility and survival in various environmental conditions. The detailed information that electrophysiology only can provide on porin function and modulation promises to yield a more accurate description of how porin properties can be used by cells to adapt to a changing environment, and to offer mechanisms that might optimize the drug sensitivity of the microorganism.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Ion Channels / physiology
  • Lipid Bilayers / metabolism
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques
  • Porins / metabolism*


  • Ion Channels
  • Lipid Bilayers
  • Porins