To elucidate the functional interaction between the active G protein subunit (GK*) and the cardiac muscarinic K+ (KACh) channel, the effect of intracellular GTP on the channel current fluctuation in the presence of 0.5 microM extracellular acetylcholine was examined in inside-out patches from guinea pig atrial myocytes using spectral analysis technique. The power density spectra of current fluctuations induced at various concentrations of GTP ([GTP]) were well fitted by the sum of two Lorentzian functions. Because the channel has one open state, the open-close transitions of the channel gate represented by the spectra could be described as C2<-->C1<-->O. As [GTP] was raised, the channel activity increased in a positive cooperative manner. The powers of the two Lorentzian components concomitantly increased, while the corner frequencies and the ratio of the powers at 0 Hz remained almost constant. This indicates that G protein activation did not affect the gating of each channel but mainly increased the number of functionally active channels in the patch to enhance the channel activity. Regulation of the number of functionally active channels could be described by a slow transition of the channel states, U (unavailable)<-->A (available), which is independent of the gating. The equilibrium of this slow transition was shifted by GTP from U to A. Monod-Wyman-Changeux's allosteric model for the channel state transition(U<-->A) could well describe the positive cooperative increase in the channel availability by GTP, assuming that, in the presence of saturating concentrations of ACh, [GK*] linearly increased as [GTP] was raised in our experimental range. The model indicates that the cardiac KACh channel could be described as a multimer composed of four or more functionally identical subunits, to each of which one GK* binds.

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