External barium ions inhibit K+ currents of Xenopus oocytes expressing ShH4 delta 6-46, the non-inactivating deletion of the Shaker K+ channel. At the macroscopic level, Ba2+ block comprises both a fast and a slow component. The fast component is less sensitive to Ba2+ (apparent dissociation constant at 0 mV, K(0), approximately 19.1 mM) than the slow component and is also less voltage dependent (apparent electrical distance, delta, approximately 0.14). The slow component (K(0), approximately 9.4 mM, delta approximately 0.25) is relieved by outward K+ current, which suggests that the corresponding binding site resides within the channel conduction pathway. At the single channel level, the fast component of block is evidenced as an apparent reduction in amplitude, suggesting an extremely rapid blocking and unblocking reaction. In contrast, the slow component appears to be associated with long blocked times that are present from the beginning of a depolarizing command. Installation of the slow component is much slower than a diffusion limited process; for example, the blocking time constant (tau) produced by 2 mM Ba2+ is approximately 159 s (holding potential, HP = -90 mV). However, the blocking rate of this slow component is not a linear function of external Ba2+ and tends to saturate at higher concentrations. This is inconsistent with a simple bi-molecular blocking reaction. These features of external Ba2+ block can be accounted for by a simple model of two sequential Ba2+ binding sites, where the deeper of the two sites produces the slow component of block.

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