Swelling-induced loss of organic osmolytes from cells is mediated by an outwardly rectified, volume-sensitive anion channel termed VSOAC (Volume-Sensitive Organic osmolyte/Anion Channel). Similar swelling-activated anion channels have been described in numerous cell types. The unitary conductance and gating kinetics of VSOAC have been uncertain, however. Stationary noise analysis and single-channel measurements have produced estimates for the unitary conductance of swelling-activated, outwardly rectified anion channels that vary by > 15-fold. We used a combination of stationary and nonstationary noise analyses and single-channel measurements to estimate the unitary properties of VSOAC. Current noise was analyzed initially by assuming that graded changes in macroscopic current were due to graded changes in channel open probability. Stationary noise analysis predicts that the unitary conductance of VSOAC is approximately 1 pS at 0 mV. In sharp contrast, nonstationary noise analysis demonstrates that VSOAC is a 40-50 pS channel at +120 mV (approximately 15 pS at 0 mV). Measurement of single-channel events in whole-cell currents and outside-out membrane patches confirmed the nonstationary noise analysis results. The discrepancy between stationary and nonstationary noise analyses and single-channel measurements indicates that swelling-induced current activation is not mediated by a graded increase in channel open probability as assumed initially. Instead, activation of VSOAC appears to involve an abrupt switching of single channels from an OFF state, where channel open probability is zero, to an ON state, where open probability is near unity.

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