The group-specific protein reagents, N-bromacetamide (NBA) and N-bromosuccinimide (NBS), modify sodium channel gating when perfused inside squid axons. The normal fast inactivation of sodium channels is irreversibly destroyed by 1 mM NBA or NBS near neutral pH. NBA apparently exhibits an all-or-none destruction of the inactivation process at the single channel level in a manner similar to internal perfusion of Pronase. Despite the complete removal of inactivation by NBA, the voltage-dependent activation of sodium channels remains unaltered as determined by (a) sodium current turn-on kinetics, (b) sodium tail current kinetics, (c) voltage dependence of steady-state activation, and (d) sensitivity of sodium channels to external calcium concentration. NBA and NBS, which can cleave peptide bonds only at tryptophan, tyrosine, or histidine residues and can oxidize sulfur-containing amino acids, were directly compared with regard to effects on sodium inactivation to several other reagents exhibiting overlapping protein reactivity spectra. N-acetylimidazole, a tyrosine-specific reagent, was the only other compound examined capable of partially mimicking NBA. Our results are consistent with recent models of sodium inactivation and support the involvement of a tyrosine residue in the inactivation gating structure of the sodium channel.

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