The parallel artificial membrane permeability assay (PAMPA) system has promise to rapidly screen drug candidate passive permeability, but has been poorly described in terms of its lipid membrane structure and function. The objective was to investigate the role of PAMPA lipid composition on the permeability of five model compounds. PAMPA was used and employed individual phospholipids that varied in phosphate head group and acyl chain unsaturation. Transport of benzoic acid, taurocholic acid, metoprolol, sucrose, and mannitol was measured. Membrane fluidity was assessed by 1,3-diphenylhexatriene fluorescence anisotropy. Results indicate that compound permeability across PAMPA differed in their sensitivity to membrane lipid composition, where compounds with appreciable permeability (i.e. at least 0.2 x 10(-6) cm/s) were possibly sensitive to membrane fluidity and apparent ion pair effects. Benzoic acid permeability ranged 51-fold across membrane types, suggesting acyl chain effect on membrane fluidity. Mannitol, sucrose, and taurocholic acid permeabilities were low and independent of lipid composition. Metoprolol permeability ranged 17-fold and exhibited a markedly high permeability across 1,2-dioleoyl-sn-glycero-3-[phospho-L-serine] due to apparent ion pair-facilitated transport. Compound permeability was lowest across the phosphatidylcholines, which is consistent with phosphatidylcholine exhibiting relatively high membrane rigidity. In contrast to results from phosphatidylethanolamines and phosphatidylserines, acyl chain unsaturation had no effect on permeability across phosphatidylcholines. In conclusion, while much remains unknown about PAMPA structure and subsequent PAMPA permeability, results here from five solutes suggest that, for solutes with appreciable permeability, lipid composition modulated drug permeability through possible membrane fluidity and apparent ion pair influences. (c) 2006 Elsevier B.V All rights reserved.