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L. D. Mosgaard, K. A. Zecchi, T. Heimburg and R. Budvytyte. 2015. The effect of the nonlinearity of the response of lipid membranes to voltage perturbations on the interpretation of its electrical properties. Membranes 5: 495-512    pdf abstract96

Our understanding of the electrical properties of cell membranes is derived from experiments where the membrane is exposed to a perturbation (in the form of a time-dependent voltage or current change) and information is extracted from the measured output. The interpretation of such electrical recordings consists in finding an electronic equivalent that would show the same or similar response as the biological system. In general, however, there is no unique circuit configuration, which can explain a single electrical recording and the choice of an electric model for a biological system is based on complementary information (most commonly structural information) of the system investigated. Most of the electrophysiological data on cell membranes address the functional role of protein channels while assuming that the lipid matrix is an insulator with constant capacitance. However, close to their melting transition the lipid bilayers are no inert insulators. Their conductivity and their capacitance are nonlinear functions of both voltage, area and volume density. This has to be considered when interpreting electrical data. Here we show how electric data commonly interpreted as gating currents of proteins and inductance can be explained by the nonlinear dynamics of the lipid matrix itself.