How quantum coherent water in the liquid
crystalline cell is really responsible for the membrane potential that
determines its vital states, and is crucial for energy and signal transduction Dr. Mae-Wan Ho
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A new cell biology is taking shape beyond
the clutter of molecular nuts and bolts that has been preventing us from seeing
the wood for the trees. To clear the path, we must begin by sweeping away some
deeply entrenched conventional wisdom about the membrane potential. The
membrane potential has been gaining a lot of attention lately on account of its
central involvement in determining the vital states of cells and tissues (see
 Membrane Potential
Rules, SiS 52); but few really understand what it is.
What’s really responsible for the
All cells are enclosed in a plasma
membrane, and an electrical potential difference can be measured by inserting a
microelectrode through the membrane into the cell or with voltage sensitive dyes.
A cell at rest has an average membrane potential of -50 mV, but this can change
a lot when the cell is active. As we have seen , changes in membrane
potential determine the cell’s vital states, from the specification of body
axis during development and regeneration, to cell proliferation,
differentiation, and cancer. But where does the membrane potential comes from?
A typical account goes like
this : “The membrane potential arises from the net
actions of ion channels and ion pumps (such as the sodium–potassium ATPase)
embedded in the membrane, which produce different concentrations of ions (and
therefore electrical charge) on the intracellular and extracellular sides of
the membrane. The ion channels, when active, partially discharge the membrane
potential, while the ion pumps restore and maintain it.”
leaves a lot unexplained. What exactly determines which ions end up inside or
outside the cell? What determines the correct concentration differences inside
and outside the cell?
The best (conventional)
description I could find says that the membrane potential is generated by the
asymmetric ion distribution across the membrane and selective ion channels,
mostly K+ and Na+ channels . The “simplified”
explanation goes as follows.
There is a difference in the
concentration of potassium across the membrane, the inside being a lot higher
at about 150 mM than the 5 mM outside. The intracellular K+ is
nearly balanced by the negative charges on proteins. The membrane is highly
permeable to potassium, as there are many potassium channels in the cell
membrane; however, the proteins cannot get out as the membrane is not permeable
The reason the cell is slightly
negative on the inside is because K+ tends to diffuse out down its
concentration gradient. However, as the K+ leaves the cell, the
charge balancing proteins cannot follow, so the movement of K+ out
of the cell leads to the net transfer of positive charge to the outside, and
consequently a small amount of unbalanced negative charge inside the cell,
generating the resting membrane potential.
But why doesn’t all the K+
leave the cell? The negative charge generated inside holds them in, balancing
the chemical gradient that makes them diffuse out. This is a point of
equilibrium at which there is no net movement of K+ into or out of
The situation is a bit more
complicated. There is a concentration gradient of Na+, much higher outside
the cell at about 150 mM than the 10 mM inside. This concentration gradient and
the negative membrane potential both tend to send Na+ inside the
cell. The membrane also contains a small number of Na+ channels. So
there is a very slow leak of sodium into the cell. Every time a Na+
leaks into the cell, a K+ ion leaves the cell to maintain electrical
balance. If this were to continue, all of the K+ concentration
gradient would have been dissipated. The cell’s defence against that is the Na+/K+
ATPase – the sodium potassium exchange pump, or the sodium pump – which pumps
sodium out of the cell in exchange for potassium, 3 Na+ for 2 K+,
for every ATP (adenosine triphosphate) hydrolysed to ADP (adenosine
triphosphate) and Pi (inorganic phosphate).
The author of the above
description, Sepher Eskandari, cautions : “It is important to realize that
the Na+/K+ ATPase is not directly responsible for the
generation of the resting membrane potential …[It] is responsible for the maintenance
of the membrane potential.. In fact you can poison the sodium potassium
exchange pump with a chemical called ouabain.., and the cell will continue to
have a resting potential for hours..”
What Eskandari has failed to explain
is why K+ rather than Na+ should exist at high
concentration inside the cell. He has also failed to say that the reason K+
does not leave the cell is because it is not free to do so. Instead, most, if
not all of it is selectively bound to the carboxylate (COO-) groups
of amino-acid side-chains on proteins. Gilbert Ling has been saying that for
more than half a century, based on extensive experimental and theoretical
investigations  (see also  Strong
Medicine for Cell Biology, SiS 24).
Potassium is bound
to the cytoplasm
When Ling proposed that
practically all K+ in the cytoplasm is bound to the carboxylate groups of proteins,
the cytoskeleton that pervades the cell, which we now take for granted, was not
yet known (see  The Rainbow Ensemble,
SiS 48). But there was already considerable evidence that the cytoplasm
is in an organized gel-like state, rather than a disorganized thick soup of
protein dissolved in water.
that K+ is bound or adsorbed,
presented in detail in Ling’s book , includes the following . There is
low intracellular electrical conductance inside the cell despite the high
concentration of K+, which indicates that most of the intracellular
K+ is bound. Intracellular K+ mobility is strongly
reduced compared to K+ outside the cell, again indicating that most
of it is bound. There is a one-to-one correspondence between K+ ions
and intracellular carboxylate groups. The intracellular K+ ion
absorption sites were identified as the aspartate and glutamate side chains of
strongest evidence that K+ is adsorbed to the cytoplasmic proteins
is that the intracellular concentration of K+ remains high for hours
after the cell membrane is cut or made permeable with detergent, or indeed,
when the sodium potassium exchange pump is poisoned with ouabain .
Potassium is bound selectively inside
Ling’s theory links selective K+
adsorption to a special state of intracellular proteins and especially cell
water (see later). Ludwig Edelman at Saarland University in Germany, a biophysicist who took Ling’s ideas very seriously, has succeeded in obtaining
the most ‘true to life’ and most beautiful electron micrographs of cells
without the harsh dehydrating treatments that rob cells of their associated
liquid crystalline water [8, 9] What's
the Cell Really Like?, SiS 24; Why
Beauty is Truth and Truth Beauty , SiS 50), and proved that K+
is selectively adsorbed to carboxylate groups of proteins in preference to Na+.
That is why the cell does not need the constant action of the Na+/K+
ATPase to pump Na+ out in exchange for K+. That ‘pump’ is
only ever activated to restore small deviations from a previous equilibrium;
and we shall see how small and local these deviations are.
In one of many experiments , Edelmann incubated freeze-dried and
embedded thin sections of frog muscle in solutions containing LiCl, NaCl, KCl,
RbCl and CsCl (pH 7.0 Tris buffer) at concentrations of (50 mM, 50 mM, 10 mM,
10 mM and 10mM respectively), and carried out micro mass-spectroscopy to
determine the amount of the different ions bound to the muscle section. He
found the following order of selective ion uptake: Li+>Cs+>
Rb+> K+> Na+, or Cs+> Li+
> Rb+ > K+ > Na+. Thus, K+
is invariably preferred over Na+, despite the 5-fold preponderance
of Na+ over K+ in the solution.
The preferred adsorption of K+ by the cytoplasm is the
equilibrium resting state, which gives rise to the potential difference between
the cell and the extracellular medium, even in the absence of the cell
membrane. It certainly does not require the special sodium potassium exchange
pump to generate it.
Pumps and transport proteins all require ATP, which many regarded
(and some still do) as the ‘energy currency’ of the cell. ATP was thought to
possess ‘high energy’ phosphate bonds. But that was decisively disproved by
direct measurement of the energy released in the hydrolysis of ATP in 1956 .
Instead, ATP functions as a major electronic modulator in the cell, as Ling has
argued for nearly 60 years ago. But I am jumping ahead.
So long as the cytoplasm selectively binds K+, it will
give the apparent ‘membrane potential’ measured with a microelectrode stuck
into the cell. In fact, Ling’s absorption equation  has the same form as the
usual the Goldman-Hodgkin-Katz equation for the membrane potential based on the
differences in concentrations of ions outside and inside the cell [12, 13]. But
contrary to the conventional assumption that the potential difference applies
to the inside of the cell as a whole compared to the outside, Ling assumes that
the potential difference is strictly local, applying to the bit of cytoplasm
containing the tip of the microelectrode and the external medium . By the
same token, the change in absolute number of K+ ions that brings
about a change in membrane potential locally, as in an action potential, can be
extremely small, which can be readily restored to equilibrium by local pumps.
So far so
good; but when proteins are tested in solution outside the cell, they almost
invariably prefer to bind Na+ over K+ , which led to a
lot of scepticism of Ling’s theory, as Ling himself recognized .
and K+ ions are hydrated (surrounded by water molecules, see  Dancing with
Ions, SiS 49). Na+, being a
smaller ion than K+, has a greater net charge on its surface than K+,
and hence tends to form hydrogen bonds with water molecules. (For a primer on
water and hydrogen bonds see  Cooperative and Coherent
Water, SiS 49.) K+ being a
bigger ion, has a smaller surface charge and correspondingly weaker attraction
for water; so water molecules preserve their hydrogen-bonding to one another
and form a cage around the K+ ion. Consequently, K+ tends
to pair directly with the carboxylate group (COO-) with no
water of hydration in between, whereas Na+ tends to form
water-mediated pairing with the carboxylate group . The two ions therefore
bind very differently, with K+ ion preferring stronger acids, i.e., groups
with high electron withdrawing (or low electron-donating) tendencies, whereas
Na+ preferring weaker acids, i.e., groups with low electron
withdrawing (or high electron donating) tendencies, which happens to be the
carboxylate groups of proteins, at least outside the cell. So how can one
explain the selective binding of K+ inside the cell?
Ling’s answer is that
the proteins are in a very different state inside the cell, and so is the
water, and the main reason is the ubiquitous presence of ATP .
Proteins are long linear polymers of amino-aids joined end
to end in a peptide bond (-CONH-). Peptide bonds on the same chain can form
hydrogen bonds with one another, giving rise to secondary structures of a-helices or b-pleated
sheets. Most proteins in solution are also folded up in further globular
tertiary structures. That’s the conventional textbook story.
However, that story does not apply to the cell, according
to Ling. In his fully developed association-induction
(AI) hypothesis, he proposed that the major components of living protoplasm –
water, proteins, and K+ - exist in a closely associated, high-energy
state at ‘rest’. Within the resting cell, most if not all proteins are extended
so that the peptide bonds along their polypeptide backbone are free to interact
with water molecules to form ‘polarized multilayers’ of aligned water molecules,
while the carboxylate side chains preferentially bind K+ over Na+.
Both are due to the ubiquitous presence of ATP in living cells.
In the absence
of ATP, proteins tend to adopt secondary structures – a-helix, or a b-pleated sheet -
as hydrogen bonds form between peptide bonds in the same chain, so they don’t
interact with water (Figure 1 left). In this state, the carboxylate and amino
side chains are also unavailable for binding ions, as they can pair up with
each other. And the water next to the protein is not too different from the
bulk phase outside the cell.
ATP is bound to the ‘cardinal site’ of the protein, it withdraws electrons away
from the protein chain, thereby inducing the hydrogen bonds to open up,
unfolding the chain, exposing the peptide bonds on the backbone, and enabling them
to interact with water to form polarized multilayers (PM) (Fig. 1 right). At
the same time, the carboxylate and amino side chains are opened up to interact
with the appropriate inorganic cation X+ and anion Y-.
The protein ‘helper’ Z bound to the polypeptide chain is now also fully
exposed. In muscle, the polypeptide chain binding ATP is myosin, and Z could
well be actin. The cation X+ is K+ in preference to Na+,
because ATP binding turns the carboxylate group into a strong acid that prefers
K+ over Na+.
When ATP is
split into ADP and Pi, and detaches from the protein, the reverse change takes
place, the protein reforms its secondary structure and expels the PM water.
This switching between states is the elemental ‘living machine’. It is what
animates and energizes the living cell.
Notice that the
state change involves a major change in the water between an ordered PM to a
relatively disordered state. (Something like this could well be the basis of
how actin and myosin function in muscle contraction.)
1 Gilbert Ling’s elemental living machine (redrawn from .
Recent corroboration of Ling’s
hypothesis and the liquid crystalline cell
The interaction of unfolded protein chains
with water is particularly significant. When protein chains are unfolded, their
peptide bonds -CONH- become exposed, forming an alternating chain of negative
(CO) and positive (NH) fixed charges that is very good at attracting polarized
multilayers (PM) of oriented water molecules (see Figure 2). I have referred to
this water as ‘liquid crystalline water’ on grounds that it forms dynamically quantum
coherent units with the macromolecules ( The Rainbow and the Worm, The
Physics of Organisms, ISIS publication), enabling them to transfer and
transform energy seamlessly with close to 100 percent efficiency. And it is this
liquid crystalline water that gives the cell all its distinctive vital
qualities (see  Life is Water's Quantum Jazz, ISIS Lecture).
2 Polarized multilayers of water molecules form on the extended polypeptide
Many recent findings lend
support to Ling’s hypothesis and the liquid crystalline cell, and I shall
mention them in context.
molecules are highly polarized and oriented. According to Ling , they are
restricted in motion, and have shortened nuclear magnetic resonance relaxation
times. (This is the basis of nuclear magnetic imaging that detects cancerous
tissues by their longer relaxation times, as indicative of less structured
water.) PM water does not freeze at the temperature of liquid nitrogen, and it
tends to exclude solutes, which accounts for the apparent diffusion barrier for
many molecules that are erroneously attributed to the cell membrane. In fact,
the cell membrane offers very limited restriction to diffusion, and it is the
PM water that excludes them.
PM water resembles
supercooled water that has been identified in recent years as hydration water
of proteins (see  Dancing with
Macromolecules, SiS 49). A similar phase of water has been found on
surfaces of hydrophilic gels, most recently by Gerald Pollack’s research team
at University of Washington, Seattle in the United States (see  Water Forms Massive Exclusion Zones,
SiS 23), which indeed excluded all solutes tested: including albumin,
and pH sensitive dyes.
though not mentioned by Ling, PM is expected to be extremely good at resonant
energy transfer over long distances, even better than bulk water at ambient
temperatures, and to conduct positive electricity by jump conduction of protons
(see  Positive Electricity
Zaps Through Water Chains, SiS 28).
A cell with 80
percent water content would have polarized multilayers of water some 4
molecules thick that anastomose and surround the abundant cytoplasmic proteins
such as those of the ubiquitous cytoskeleton. This is also precisely the
thickness of the highly polarized water around proteins identified in Terahertz
absorption spectroscopy within the past several years .
opinion review article published in 2005 stated : “Recent progress in
predicting protein structures has revealed an abundance of proteins that are
significantly unfolded under physiological conditions. Unstructured, flexible
polypeptide are likely to be functionally important and may cause local
cytoplasmic regions to become gel-like.” This is another indication that Ling
may well be right.
sees his proposed ‘cardinal sites’ on proteins to include the ubiquitous
receptor sites of cell biology, but going beyond them . For example, ATP and
2,3 diphosphoglycerate (2,3 DPG), are essential for the action of haemoglobin,
the iron-containing oxygen carrier protein in red blood cells. Binding of ATP
and 2,3 DPG reduces the affinity of haemoglobin for oxygen, so that haemoglobin
can deliver the oxygen to the lungs [24, 25]. ATP is therefore not the only
cardinal adsorbent. Drugs, hormones, 2,3-DPG, Ca2+, and other potent
agents at very low concentration may interact with cardinal sites to sustaining
the resting living state of the protoplasm or bring about changes .
Thus, electronic induction is essentially the mode of action in cell
. The ‘cardinal adsorbents’ are electron-donating or electron-withdrawing. Induction
happens via the polypeptide chain, which possesses a partially resonating
structure as the peptide bond is 40 percent double bond and 60 percent single
bond  (see Figure 3), and is therefore highly polarisable, enabling it to
transfer energy and information over long distances .
Figure 3 The resonating peptide bond
As the PM water is highly ordered and polarized if not quantum
coherent [15, 17, 27] (Quantum Coherent
Water and Life, SiS 51), I would expect it, too, to be equally
adapt at resonant energy and information transfer, if not more so, and over the
widely anastomosing networks that ultimately connect up the whole cell via the
the major cytoskeletal proteins – actin, tubulin and intermediate filament
proteins - polymerize into extended fibrous networks throughout the cell in the
presence of ATP (GTP, guanosine triphosphate in the case of tubulin) [28, 29],
and hence expected to support polarized multilayers of water. The cytoskeletal
proteins are also all highly acidic, with glutamate and aspartate carboxylate side-chains
and termini exposed and organised in clusters that are expected to show
considerable preference for binding K+ over Na+  in
the resting polymerized state, not unlike the picture Ling had in mind. When
stimulated into activity, the depolymerisation of the cytoskeletal proteins
would release ATP or bound ADP and Pi, thereby bringing about a change in
protein conformations that also alters the state of cell water, and with that,
membrane depolarization and new chemistry due to influx of previously excluded
solutes and ions [4, 7, 30] (The
Importance of Cell Water, SiS 24).
a whole new vista has opened up. The coming decade could be the most exciting
in the history of cell biology.
LUIS CARRAZANA Comment left 22nd September 2016 15:03:13 So, does the respiration injury giving rise to low ATP that causes Sodium and water swelling because of low ATP give rise to the Warburg effect and cancer, or is the too much Sodium in the diet that gives rise to edema causing respiration injury and Warburg's including cancer? Was Gerson's salt free diet addressing the cause of the respiration injury or a correlating fact?