Sulfonylureas rapidly cross phospholipid bilayer membranes by a free-diffusion mechanism
Diabetes. 2003 Oct;52(10):2526-31.
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Because sulfonylureas directly activate the exocytotic machinery, we were interested in the extent to which these compounds penetrate the beta-cell plasma membrane and the underlying molecular mechanism(s). We now provide evidence that sulfonylureas cross phospholipid bilayer membranes rapidly and effectively by a free-diffusion mechanism. Two sulfonylurea compounds investigated by 1H nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, glibenclamide and tolbutamide, were found to incorporate into phospholipid bilayers, with the ionizable sulfonamide exposed to the aqueous interface and its apparent dissociation constant (pKa) increased to approximately 7.0. Diffusion of weak amphiphilic acids across membranes is associated with a measurable change in pH. Thus, by using a fluorescence-based pH assay, we could investigate the diffusion of sulfonylurea compounds across phospholipid bilayer membranes. A fluorescent pH indicator (pyranin or [2',7'-bis (2-carboxyethyl)-5(6)-carboxyfluorescein] [BCECF]) was trapped in egg phosphatidylcholine vesicles. Addition of glibenclamide decreased internal pH (pHin), and addition of albumin reversed this drop by 50%. With the same amount of tolbutamide, the decrease in pHin was much smaller, primarily because of the lower partitioning of tolbutamide into phospholipid bilayers. Using similar protocols, we also demonstrated diffusion by the same mechanism across the beta-cell plasma membrane. Thus, we now provide a molecular mechanism by which sulfonylureas can penetrate the plasma membrane and reach intracellular sites regulating exocytosis.