Theoretical considerations on the role of membrane potential in the regulation of endosomal pH

Biophys J. 1997 Aug;73(2):674-87. doi: 10.1016/S0006-3495(97)78102-5.


Na+,K(+)-ATPase has been observed to partially inhibit acidification of early endosomes by increasing membrane potential, whereas chloride channels have been observed to enhance acidification in endosomes and lysosomes. However, little theoretical analysis of the ways in which different pumps and channels may interact has been carried out. We therefore developed quantitative models of endosomal pH regulation based on thermodynamic considerations. We conclude that 1) both size and shape of endosomes will influence steady-state endosomal pH whenever membrane potential due to the pH gradient limits proton pumping, 2) steady-state pH values similar to those observed in early endosomes of living cells can occur in endosomes containing just H(+)-ATPases and Na+,K(+)-ATPases when low endosomal buffering capacities are present, and 3) inclusion of active chloride channels results in predicted pH values well below those observed in vivo. The results support the separation of endocytic compartments into two classes, those (such as early endosomes) whose acidification is limited by attainment of a certain membrane potential, and those (such as lysosomes) whose acidification is limited by the attainment of a certain pH. The theoretical framework and conclusions described are potentially applicable to other membrane-enclosed compartments that are acidified, such as elements of the Golgi apparatus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Buffers
  • Chloride Channels / physiology
  • Computer Simulation
  • Endosomes / physiology*
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration*
  • Ion Channel Gating
  • Kinetics
  • Membrane Potentials / physiology*
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Proton-Translocating ATPases / metabolism
  • Sodium-Potassium-Exchanging ATPase / metabolism
  • Software
  • Thermodynamics


  • Buffers
  • Chloride Channels
  • Proton-Translocating ATPases
  • Sodium-Potassium-Exchanging ATPase