Cholinergic agonists cause an increase in the membrane permeability of Na and K at the innervated face of Electrophorus electroplaques. Therefore, sustained exposure to agonist reduces Na and K concentration gradients. There gradients are monitored with voltage-clamp sequences and pharmacological treatments that selectively measure the Nernst potentials for individual ions. EK is normally near--90 mV but moves toward zero during bath application of agonist. Depolarizations by bath-applied agonist measure primarily this shift of EK, not short-circuiting of EK by the agonist-induced conductance. After a rapid jump of agonist concentration, there is a fast (millisecond) depolarization due to the conductance increase, followed by a much slower additional "creep" due to the shift in EK. Sodium replaces the lost intracellular potassium: ENa, normally very positive, also moves toward zero. The shifts in EK and ENa are normally reversible but become permanent after blockade of the Na-K pump. In the presence of agonist, the shifts can be driven further by passing current of the appropriate polarity. Similar ion redistribution occurs with other drugs, such as batrachotoxin and nystatin, which induce prolonged increases in Na permeability. The redistributions cause little net change in the reversal potential of the neurally evoked postsynaptic current.

This content is only available as a PDF.