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Summary

The cell wail of Mycobacterium smegmatis me2155 was shown to be an effective permeability barrier to hydrophilic compounds. Permeability coefficients to β-lactams ranged from 10 × 10 −7 to 0.5 × 10 −7 cm s−1. Cell wall proteins were solubilized with EDTA and Genapol and were tested for channel-forming activity by reconstitution into lipid bilayers. Proteins were able to induce a voltage-gated cation-selective channel. The mycobacterial porin channel appeared to be water-filled since the single-channel conductance followed the mobility sequence of hydrated ions in the aqueous phase. On the basis of the Renkin equation and the single-channel conductance, the channel diameter was estimated to be around 3 nm. Model calculations showed that cation selectivity may be caused by four negative point-charges at the channel mouth. The permeability properties of the cell wall of intact cells were in good agreement with those of the reconstituted channel. Negatively charged cephalosporins, cefamandole and cephalothin, diffused at a 10- to 20-fold lower rate than the zwitterionic cephaloridine. The mycobacterial porin represents a major hydrophilic pathway of the cell wall of M. smegmatis.