The blockage of nerve activity by tetrodotoxin is unusually potent and specific. Our experiments were designed to distinguish whether its specificity of action was based on the identification of ions, the direction of cation flow, or differences in the early transient and late steady conductance pathways. Alkali cations were substituted for sodium in the sea water, bathing an "artificial node" in a voltage-clamped squid axon. When tetrodotoxin was added to the artificial sea waters at a concentration of 100 to 150 mM, it was found to always block the flow of cations through the early transient channel, both inward and outward, but it never blocked the flow of ions using the late steady pathway. We conclude that the selectivity of tetrodotoxin is based on some difference in these two channels.

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