Inward-rectifier K channel: using macroscopic voltage clamp and single-channel patch clamp techniques we have identified the K+ channel responsible for potassium recycling across basolateral membranes (BLM) of principal cells in intact epithelia isolated from frog skin. The spontaneously active K+ channel is an inward rectifier (Kir) and is the major component of macroscopic conductance of intact cells. The current-voltage relationship of BLM in intact cells of isolated epithelia, mounted in miniature Ussing chambers (bathed on apical and basolateral sides in normal amphibian Ringer solution), showed pronounced inward rectification which was K(+)-dependent and inhibited by Ba2+, H+, and quinidine. A 15-pS Kir channel was the only type of K(+)-selective channel found in BLM in cell-attached membrane patches bathed in physiological solutions. Although the channel behaves as an inward rectifier, it conducts outward current (K+ exit from the cell) with a very high open probability (Po = 0.74-1.0) at membrane potentials less negative than the Nernst potential for K+. The Kir channel was transformed to a pure inward rectifier (no outward current) in cell-attached membranes when the patch pipette contained 120 mM KCl Ringer solution (normal NaCl Ringer in bath). Inward rectification is caused by Mg2+ block of outward current and the single-channel current-voltage relation was linear when Mg2+ was removed from the cytosolic side. Whole-cell current-voltage relations of isolated principal cells were also inwardly rectified. Power density spectra of ensemble current noise could be fit by a single Lorentzian function, which displayed a K dependence indicative of spontaneously fluctuating Kir channels. Conclusions: under physiological ionic gradients, a 15-pS inward-rectifier K+ channel generates the resting BLM conductance in principal cells and recycles potassium in parallel with the Na+/K+ ATPase pump.

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