lp16 The so-called "sodium-" and "potassium channels"

In the linked page, lp6, I have shown how a set of natural facts and limited human perceptions led to the grave misconception that living cells are dilute solutions enclosed in thin membranes. Since dilute solutions are just that, the thin cell membrane became the only theater where the actions of life must take place. And that offers few options for explaining the different chemical makeup of cells from the environment in which they spend their entire lives. A highly popular notion was the "atomic sieve" theory of Moritz Traube (1826-1894) which was first introduced to explain why some artificial membranes can allow the passage of the smaller water molecules but not the larger molecules and ions. This idea was not compatible with results of electron- and X-ray diffractions studies which indicated that the pores in the models were much larger than the size of the molecules to which the membrane was impermeable. Nonetheless, biologists held on to this basic idea to explain the selective permeability of the living cell membrane even as it was again and again disproved (for detailed description see Ling, A Revolution in the Physiology of the Living Cell, 1992, pp.3-6).

The latest version of the resurrected atomic sieve is what is now widely discussed as the so-called "sodium channels" and "potassium channels". It began with the assumption of independent ion migrations. That is, smaller (hydrated ) potassium ions move in and out of the cell through smaller pores called potassium channels, each estimated to have a diameter of 3 Angstroms by C. M.Armstrong ( in Membranes: A Series of Advances, Vol. III ,G. Eisenman, ed., Academic Press, New York, p.325.). The larger (hydrated) sodium ions, travel through the cell membranes via larger pores, each estimated to measure 3A x 5 A, and called sodium channels (Hille, in Membranes: A Series of Advances, Vol. 3, p.255).

The problem with this two channel model is simple and easy to understand. One can expect a large dog to go in and out of the house exclusively by the large dog hole; but it is difficult to see why a smaller cat feels compelled to use only the smaller cat hole. Indeed, very soon after the independent migration idea was introduced, careful experiments revealed that the (smaller ) potassium ion does indeed do what it is not supposed to do: travel through the (wider) sodium channel (Chandler and Meves, J. Physiol. (London)180:788, 1965).

In 1953 I introduced the idea that fixed ionic sites on the cell surface could offer a basic mechanism for the selective permeability of one ion (e.g., potassium ion) over another (e.g., sodium ion). This seminal idea was further elaborated in years following as part of the AI Hypothesis (for details see linked page lp16a): The selective permeability of potassium/sodium ion through cell membranes is achieved here not by diameters of membrane pores, but by the presence of fixed negatively charged groups on which the potassium or sodium ion must first adsorb before entering or leaving the cell. If the fixed negatively charged group selectively adsorbs potassium ion, that passage will admit mostly potassium and less sodium. On the other hand, if the charged group selectively adsorbs sodium ion, that passage will be admitting mostly sodium ion and less potassium ion (see Ling, J. Gen. Physiol.43:149, 1960). In this model, neither path is allowing only one kind of ion to go through. Only the relative probability of going through differs. This is in harmony with the finding of Chandler and Meves cited above.

In 1975 Bertil Hille of the University of Washington, in trying to overcome the big hole/small hole problem mentioned above, adopted my idea of fixed ionic sites as the basis of selective permeability through his potassium/sodium channels. There is nothing wrong for one scientist (A) to incorporate ideas from another scientist (B), as long as A clearly cites B as the originator of the idea and gives B the credit for creating the idea. Failing to do that, A is falsely informing the world that he, A, is the originator of the idea. This is another of the despised offenses in Science like "cooking". It is known also as plagiarism. The Webster Collegiate Dictionary defines this term as "the act of stealing and passing off (the idea or words of another) as one's own."

Hille appropriated my idea published in earlier work without citing me (and my earlier publication) as the originator and has therefore plagiarized my work. The set of correspondence cited in the linked page lp16a left no doubt that he had not in some hidden publications unknown to me given me the credit. Nor did he make sincere efforts to set things straight after I have pointed out what he had done. All he did was first to ignore my letter. When further pressed, he claimed that his plagiarizing was "not intended".

In principle, there is the possibility that one can without realizing it, pick up something belonging to someone else. In this case, when the true situation is known, the offender would naturally apologize profusely and return the "unintentionally" swiped goods instantly. But if the offender only announced that he/she "unintentionally" swiped the goods but refused to return the goods to the rightful owner, his proclamation of "not intended" would do little to change the fact that he/she is a thief, and worse than a thief, but an outlaw, a robber. This appears to be the case with Dr. Bertile Hille. After announcing that the plagiarism was "not intended", he took no steps at all in the twenty years following to disclaim his authorship for the critical role of fixed ionic site in selective ionic permeability.

However, even by incorporating the fixed-negatively-charged-ion concept of the AI Hypothesis into the channels makes the dog hole-cat hole criticism less pressing, it still cannot make the concept of discrete potassium channel and sodium channel tenable. They are, after all, part and parcel of the membrane-pump concept which as a whole is untenable. When a ship sinks, it makes little difference if one particular window of a specific cabin is made a little less leaky. The interested reader can find more detailed analysis of this in Chapter 11 of my 1992 book described under linked page lp7a (see also linked page lp6a, and linked page lp6b).