Tetraethylammonium ion (TEA) and its longer chain derivatives have been used extensively to block currents through K-selective ion channels. Substantial information has been gained about the structure and gating mechanisms of K and other cation channels from the analysis of the blocking interactions of TEA and other quaternary ammonium ions. We now present an analysis of blocking interactions between single Cl-selective ion channels from acutely dissociated rat cortical neurons and externally applied TEA. TEA applied to the extracellular membrane surface (TEAo) blocked Cl channels in a voltage-dependent manner, with hyperpolarizing potentials favoring block. The voltage dependence of block could be adequately fit assuming that TEA enters the channel pore and binds to a site located approximately 28% of the way through the membrane electrical field. The dose-response relationship between fractional current and [TEA]o at a fixed holding potential of -40 mV was well fit to a simple model with two blocking sites with dissociation constants (Kd) of approximately 2 and 70 mM. The dose-response relationship could also be fit by a mechanism where TEA only partially blocks the channels. At the bandwidth used in these experiments (1-2 kHz), both the mean open duration (composed of the open and blocked durations) and burst duration (composed of open, blocked, and short lifetime shut durations) increased with increased [TEA]o. This is expected if TEAo can bind and unbind only when the channel is in the open kinetic state. These results suggest that the structure of the permeability pathway of these anion-selective channels may be very similar to that of other channels that are blocked by TEA. Additionally, these results caution that a blocking effect by TEA cannot, by itself, be used as sufficient evidence for implicating the participation of K channels in a particular process.

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