Single channel currents through cardiac sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR) Ca2+ release channels were measured in very low levels of current carrier (e.g., 1 mM Ba2+). The hypothesis that surface charge contributes to these anomalously large single channel currents was tested by changing ionic strength and surface charge density. Channel identity and sidedness was pharmacologically determined. At low ionic strength (20 mM Cs+), Cs+ conduction in the lumen-->myoplasm (L-->M) direction was significantly greater than in the reverse direction (301.7 +/- 92.5 vs 59.8 +/- 38 pS, P < 0.001; mean +/- SD, t test). The Cs+ concentration at which conduction reached half saturation was asymmetric (32 vs 222 mM) and voltage independent. At high ionic strength (400 mM Cs+), conduction in both direction saturated at 550 +/- 32 pS. Further, neutralization of carboxyl groups on the lumenal side of the channel significantly reduced conduction (333.0 +/- 22.5 vs 216.2 +/- 24.4 pS, P < 0.002). These results indicate that negative surface charge exists near the lumenal mouth of the channel but outside the electric field of the membrane. In vivo, this surface charge may potentiate conduction by increasing the local Ca2+ concentration and thus act as a preselection filter for this poorly selective channel.

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