We have studied the role of Mg2+ in the inactivation of inwardly rectifying K+ channels in vascular endothelial cells. Inactivation was largely eliminated in Mg(2+)-free external solutions and the extent of inactivation was increased by raising Mg2+o. The dose-response relation for the reduction of channel open probability showed that Mg2+o binds to a site (KD = approximately 25 microM at -160 mV) that senses approximately 38% of the potential drop from the external membrane surface. Analysis of the single-channel kinetics showed that Mg2+ produced a class of long-lived closures that separated bursts of openings. Raising Mg2+o reduced the burst duration, but less than expected for an open-channel blocking mechanism. The effects of Mg2+o are antagonized by K+o in manner which suggests that K+ competes with Mg2+ for the inactivation site. Mg2+o also reduced the amplitude of the single-channel current at millimolar concentrations by a rapid block of the open channel. A mechanism is proposed in which Mg2+ binds to the closed channel during hyperpolarization and prevents it from opening until it is occupied by K+.

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