1. The inference, implicit in the chemiosmotic hypothesis, that protons move into the bulk phase during ATP synthesis was investigated. 2. Incubation of rat liver mitochondria in the presence of the cation exchanger CM-Sephadex C-50 caused alkalinization in the medium, though total ATP synthesis remained unchanged. The addition of N-ethylmaleimide prevented the alkalinization, but there was still no indication of protons passing into the medium. The expected proton movement [Mitchell & Moyle (1967) Biochem. J. 105, 1147–1162] was readily detected when as an equivalent acid pulse. 3. Analysis of delta H+ decay curves after O2 pulses (3 micrograms-atoms of O/g of protein) indicated the presence of fast and slow components of decay, with first-order rate constants (k) of 0.24s-1 and 0.032s-1. The fast decay was finite and was eliminated in the presence of N-ethylmaleimide. 4. These observations are interpreted as evidence for the development of unmasking of fixed charges on the outer surface of the mitochondrial inner membrane during energization and for the existence of proton-retentive electrical fields (rho-zones) on this surface. The charge concentration is calculated as about 1 charge/10nm2. 5. A cycle of changes in a single fixed-charge molecule is proposed which mediates both Ca2+ uptake and the first step in the utilization of the rho-zone protonmotive force, delta p rho.
- © 1979 London: The Biochemical Society