The appearance of detergent-solubilized voltage-regulated sodium channel protein was recently characterized by this laboratory. Negative-staining revealed rod-shaped particles measuring 40 X 170 A. Further studies have suggested that the actual configuration of this protein may be quite different from the rod-shaped structures. Freeze-fracture and freeze-etch images of the protein in reconstituted membranes indicated that the channel is cylindrical with a diameter of 100 A and a minimum length of 80 A. Experiments with two detergent systems (Lubrol-PX and sodium cholate) enabled us to explain the discrepancy between this structure and the rod-shaped particles visualized earlier. Negative staining in either detergent at low pH (4.5) produced rod-shaped structures. As the pH was increased, doughnut-shaped particles, consistent with the structure of the protein in freeze-etch, appeared in negative stain. The tendency of the protein to change shape under different pH conditions appears to be a peculiar property of this protein.

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