Bal 2012 PLOS ONE

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Bal W, Kurowska E, Maret W (2012) The final frontier of pH and the undiscovered country beyond. PLOS ONE 7(9):e45832.


Bal W, Kurowska E, Maret W (2012) PLOS ONE

Abstract: The comparison of volumes of cells and subcellular structures with the pH values reported for them leads to a conflict with the definition of the pH scale. The pH scale is based on the ionic product of water, Kw = [H+]×[OH]. We used Kw [in a reversed way] to calculate the number of undissociated H2O molecules required by this equilibrium constant to yield at least one of its daughter ions, H+ or OH at a given pH. In this way we obtained a formula that relates pH to the minimal volume VpH required to provide a physical meaning to Kw, (where NA is Avogadro’s number). For example, at pH 7 (neutral at 25 °C) VpH = 16.6 aL. Any deviation from neutral pH results in a larger VpH value. Our results indicate that many subcellular structures, including coated vesicles and lysosomes, are too small to contain free H+ ions at equilibrium, thus the definition of pH based on Kw is no longer valid. Larger subcellular structures, such as mitochondria, apparently contain only a few free H+ ions. These results indicate that pH fails to describe intracellular conditions, and that water appears to be dissociated too weakly to provide free H+ ions as a general source for biochemical reactions. Consequences of this finding are discussed.

Bioblast editor: Gnaiger E

Cited by

Gnaiger 2020 BEC MitoPathways

Gnaiger E (2020) Mitochondrial pathways and respiratory control. An introduction to OXPHOS analysis. 5th ed. Bioenerg Commun 2020.2:112 pp. doi:10.26124/bec:2020-0002


Preparation: Isolated mitochondria 

Regulation: pH 

BEC 2020.2