We measured the ion selectivity of cGMP-dependent currents in detached membrane patches from the outer segment of cone photoreceptors isolated from the retina of striped bass. In inside-out patches excised from either single or twin cones the amplitude of these currents, under symmetric ionic solutions, changed with the concentration of cGMP with a dependence described by a Hill equation with average values, at +80 mV, of Km = 42.6 microM and n = 2.49. In the absence of divalent cations, and under symmetric ionic solutions, the I-V curves of the currents were linear over the range of -80 to +80 mV. The addition of Ca altered the form of the I-V curve to a new function well described by an empirical equation that also describes the I-V curve of the photocurrent measured in intact photoreceptors. The monovalent cation permeability sequence of the cGMP-gated channels in the absence of divalent ions was PK > PNa = PLi = PRb > PCs (1.11 > 1.0 = 0.99 = 0.96 > 0.82). The conductance selectivity sequence at +80 mV was GNa = GK > GRb > GCs > GLi (1.0 = 0.99 > 0.88 > 0.74 > 0.60). The organic cations tetramethylammonium (TMA) and arginine partially blocked the current, but the larger ion, arginine, was permeant, whereas the smaller ion, TMA, was not. The amplitude of the outward current through the channels increased with the concentration of monovalent cations on the cytoplasmic membrane surface, up to a saturating value. The increase was well described by the adsorption isotherm of a single ion binding site within the channel with average binding constants, at +80 mV, of 104 mM for Na and 37.6 mM for Li. By assuming that the ion channel contains a single ion binding site in an energy trough separated from each membrane surface by an energy barrier, and using Eyring rate theory, we simulated I-V curves that fit the experimental data measured under ionic concentration gradients. From this fit we conclude that the binding site interacts with one ion at a time and that the energy barriers are asymmetrically located within the membrane thickness. Comparison of the quantitative features of ion permeation and interaction between the cGMP-gated channels of rod and cone photoreceptors reveals that the ion binding sites are profoundly different in the two types of channels. This molecular difference may be particularly important in explaining the differences in the transduction signal of each receptor type.

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