The sodium current (INa) that develops after step depolarization of a voltage clamped squid axon is preceded by a transient outward current that is closely associated with the opening of the activation gates of the Na pores. This "gating current" is best seen when permeant ions (Na and K) are replaced by relatively impermeant ones, and when the linear portion of capacitative current is eliminated by adding current from positive steps to that from exactly equal negative ones. During opening of the Na pores gating current is outward, and as the pores close there is an inward tail of current that decays with approximately the same time-course as INa recorded in Na-containing medium. Both outward and inward gating current are unaffected by tetrodotoxin (TTX). Gating current is capacitative in origin, the result of relatively slow reorientation of charged or dipolar molecules in a suddenly altered membrane field. Close association with the Na activation process is clear from the time-course of gating current, and from the fact that three procedures that reversibly block INa also block gating current: internal perfusion with Zn2+, prolonged depolarization of the membrane, and inactivation of INa with a short positive prepulse.

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