We measured the permeability ratios (PX/PNa) of 3 wild-type, 1 hybrid, 2 subunit-deficient, and 22 mutant nicotinic receptors expressed in Xenopus oocytes for alkali metal and organic cations using shifts in the bi-ionic reversal potential of the macroscopic current. Mutations at three positions (2', 6', 10') in M2 affected ion selectivity. Mutations at position 2' (alpha Thr244, beta Gly255, gamma Thr253, delta Ser258) near the intracellular end of M2 changed the organic cation permeability ratios as much as twofold and reduced PCs/PNa and PK/PNa by 16-18%. Mutations at positions 6' and 10' increased the glycine ethyl ester/Na+ and glycine methyl ester/Na+ permeability ratios. Two subunit alterations also affected selectivity: omission of the delta subunit reduced PCs/PNa by 16%, and substitution of Xenopus delta for mouse delta increased Pguanidinium/PNa more than twofold and reduced PCs/PNa by 34% and PLi/PNa by 20%. The wild-type mouse receptor displayed a surprising interaction with the primary ammonium cations; relative permeability peaked at a chain length equal to four carbons. Analysis of the organic permeability ratios for the wild-type mouse receptor shows that (a) the diameter of the narrowest part of the pore is 8.4 A; (b) the mouse receptor departs significantly from size selectivity for monovalent organic cations; and (c) lowering the temperature reduces Pguanidinium/PNa by 38% and Pbutylammonium/PNa more than twofold. The results reinforce present views that positions -1' and 2' are the narrowest part of the pore and suggest that positions 6' and 10' align some permeant organic cations in the pore in an interaction similar to that with channel blocker, QX-222.

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