Ionic fluxes in Na channels of myelinated axons show ionic competition, block, and deviations from simple flux independence. These phenomena are particularly evident when external Na+ ions are replaced by other permeant or impermeant ions. The observed currents require new flux equations not based on the concepts of free diffusion. A specific permeability model for the Na channel is developed from Eyring rate theory applied to a chain of saturable binding sites. There are four energy barriers in the pore and only one ion is allowed inside at a time. Deviations from independence arise from saturation. The model shows that ionic permeability ratios measured from zero-current potentials can differ from those measured from relative current amplitudes or conductances. The model can be fitted to experiments with various external sodium substitutes by varying only two parameters: For each ion the height of the major energy barrier (the selectivity filter) determines the biionic zero-current potential and the depth of the energy well (binding site) just external to that barrier then determines the current amplitudes. Voltage clamp measurements with myelinated nerve fibers are given showing numerous examples of deviations from independence in ionic fluxes. Strong blocks of ionic currents by guanidinium compounds and Tl+ ions are fitted by binding within the channel with apparent dissociation constants in the range 50-122 mM. A small block with high Na+ concentrations can be fitted by Na+ ion binding with a dissociation constant of 368 mM. The barrier model is given a molecular interpretation that includes stepwise dehydration of the permeating ion as it interacts with an ionized carboxylic acid.

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