Beyond the hydrophobic effect: Critical function of water at biological phase boundaries--A hypothesis.

  • S. Damodaran
  • Published 2015 in Advances in colloid and interface science


Many life-sustaining processes in living cells occur at the membrane-water interface. The pertinent questions that need to be asked are what is the evolutionary reason for biology to choose the membrane-water interface as the site for performing and/or controlling crucial biological reactions and what is the key physical principle that is singular to the membrane-water interface that biology exploits for regulating metabolic processes in cells? In this review, a hypothesis is developed, which espouses that cells control activities of membrane-bound enzymes and receptor activated processes via manipulating the thermodynamic activity of water at the membrane-water interfacial region. In support of this hypothesis, first we establish that the surface pressure of a lipid monolayer is a direct measure of a reduction in the thermodynamic activity of interfacial water. Second, we show that the surface pressure-dependent activation/inactivation of interfacial enzymes is fundamentally related to their dependence on interfacial water activity. We extend this argument to infer that cells might manipulate activities of membrane-associated biological processes via manipulating the activity of interfacial water via localized compression or expansion of the interface. In this paper, we critically analyze literature data on mechano-activation of large pore ion channels in Escherichia coli spheroplasts and G-proteins in reconstituted lipid vesicles, and show that these pressure-induced activation processes are fundamentally and quantitatively related to changes in the thermodynamic state of interfacial water, caused by mechanical stretching of the bilayer.

DOI: 10.1016/j.cis.2015.03.005

Cite this paper

@article{Damodaran2015BeyondTH, title={Beyond the hydrophobic effect: Critical function of water at biological phase boundaries--A hypothesis.}, author={S. Damodaran}, journal={Advances in colloid and interface science}, year={2015}, volume={221}, pages={22-33} }