Bacterial ion channels

Emma L R Compton, Joseph A Mindell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Bacterial ion channels were known, but only in special cases, such as outer membrane porins in Escherichia coli and bacterial toxins that form pores in their target (bacterial or mammalian) membranes. The exhaustive coverage provided by a decade of bacterial genome sequencing has revealed that ion channels are actually widespread in bacteria, with homologs of a broad range of mammalian channel proteins coded throughout the bacterial and archaeal kingdoms. This review discusses four groups of bacterial channels: porins, mechano-sensitive (MS) channels, channel-forming toxins, and bacterial homologs of mammalian channels. The outer membrane (OM) of gram-negative bacteria blocks access of essential nutrients; to survive, the cell needs to provide a mechanism for nutrients to penetrate the OM. Porin channels provide this access by forming large, nonspecific aqueous pores in the OM that allow ions and vital nutrients to cross it and enter the periplasm. MS channels act as emergency release valves, allowing solutes to rapidly exit the cytoplasm and to dissipate the large osmotic disparity between the internal and external environments. MS channels are remarkable in that they do this by responding to forces exerted by the membrane itself. Some bacteria produce toxic proteins that form pores in trans, attacking and killing other organisms by virtue of their pore formation. The review focuses on those bacterial toxins that kill other bacteria, specifically the class of proteins called colicins. Colicins reveal the dangers of channel formation in the plasma membrane, since they kill their targets with exactly that approach.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEcoSal Plus
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2010


  • bacterial ion channels
  • bacterial toxins
  • bacterial genome sequencing


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