Donnan equilibrium (which can also be referred to as the Gibbs-Donnan equilibrium) describes the equilibrium that exists between two solutions that are separated by a membrane. The membrane is constructed such that it allows the passage of certain charged components (ions) of the solutions. The membrane, however, does not allow the passage of all the ions present in the solutions and is thus a selectively permeable membrane.
Donnan equilibrium is named after Frederick George Donnan , who proved its existence in biological cells. J. Willard Gibbs had predicted the effect some 30 years before.
The impermeability of the membrane is typically related to the size of the particular ion. An ion can be too large to pass through the pores of the membrane to the other side. The concentration of those ions that can pass freely though the membrane is the same on both sides of the membrane. As well, the total number of charged molecules on either side of the membrane is equal.
A consequence of the selective permeability of the membrane barrier is the development of an electrical potential between the two sides of the membrane. The two solutions vary in osmotic pressure, with one solution having more of a certain type (species) or types of ion that does the other solution.
As a result, the passage of some ions across the membrane will be promoted. In bacteria , for example, the passage of potassium across the outer membrane of Gram-negative bacteria occurs as a result of an established Donnan equilibrium between the external environment and the periplasm of the bacterium. The potassium enters in an attempt to balance the large amount of negative ion inside the cell. Since potassium is freely permeable, it will tend to diffuse out again. The inward movement of sodium corrects the imbalance. In the absence of a Donnan equilibrium, the bulky sodium molecule would not normally tend to move across the membrane and an electrical potential would be created.
See also Biochemistry