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Ficoll And Dextran Vs. Globular Proteins As Probes For Testing Glomerular Permselectivity: Effects Of Molecular Size, Shape, Charge, And Deformability

Daniele Venturoli, Bengt Rippe

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Polydisperse mixtures of dextran or Ficoll have been frequently used as molecular probes for studies of glomerular permselectivity because they are largely inert and not processed (reabsorbed) by the proximal tubules. However, dextrans are linear, flexible molecules, which apparently are hyperpermeable across the glomerular barrier. By contrast, the Ficoll molecule is almost spherical. Still, there is ample evidence that Ficoll fractional clearances (sieving coefficients) across the glomerular capillary wall (GCW) are markedly higher than those for neutral globular proteins of an equivalent in vitro Stokes-Einstein (SE) radius. Physical data, obtained by “crowding” experiments or measurements of intrinsic viscosity, suggest that the Ficoll molecule exhibits a rather open, deformable structure and thus deviates from an ideally hard sphere. This is also indicated from the relationship between (log) in vitro SE radius and (log) molecular weight (MW). Whereas globular proteins seem to behave in a way similar to hydrated hard spheres, polydisperse dextran and Ficoll exhibit in vitro SE radii that are much larger than those for compact spherical molecules of equivalent MW. For dextran, this can be partially explained by a high-molecular-size asymmetry. However, for Ficoll the explanation may be that the Ficoll molecule is more flexible (deformable) than are globular proteins. An increased compressibility of Ficoll and an increased deformability and size asymmetry for dextran may be the explanation for the fact that the permeability of the GCW is significantly higher when assessed using polysaccharides such as Ficoll or dextran compared with that obtained using globular proteins as molecular size probes. We suggest that molecular deformability, besides molecular size, shape, and charge, plays a crucial role in determining the glomerular permeability to molecules of different species.