A Ca(2+)-blockable monovalent cation channel is present in the apical membrane of the ectoderm of the gastrulating chick embryo. We used the patch clamp technique to study several single-channel permeation properties of this channel. In symmetrical conditions without Ca2+, the Na+ current carried by the channel rectifies inwardly. The channel has an apparent dissociation constant for extracellular Na+ of 115 mM at 0 mV and a low density of negative surface charge (-0.03 e/nm2) at its extracellular entrance. The minimal pore diameter is approximately 5.8 A, as calculated from the relative permeabilities of 10 small organic cations. Extracellular application of six large organic cations decreased the inward Na+ current in a voltage-dependent manner, which strongly suggests an intrachannel block. The presence of at least two ion binding sites inside the pore is inferred from the Na+ dependence of the block by the organic cations. This hypothesis is strengthened by the fact that the extracellular Ca2+ block is also modified by the Na+ concentration. In particular, the rise of the unblocking rate with increased Na+ concentrations clearly suggests the presence of an interaction between Ca2+ and Na+ inside the channel. A low probability of double occupancy at physiological ionic conditions is implied from the absence of an anomalous mole fraction effect with mixtures of extracellular Li+ and K+. Finally, the absence of inward current at very strong hyperpolarizations and in the presence of 10 mM extracellular Ca2+ demonstrates the absence of significant Ca2+ current through this channel. It is argued that this embryonic epithelial Ca(2+)-blockable monovalent cation channel is related to both L-type Ca2+ channel and cyclic nucleotide-gated channels.

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