Black widow spider venom (BWSV) stimulates transmitter release and depletes synaptic vesicles from muscles bathed in a sodium free medium containing 1 mM EGTA. However, frog neuromuscular junctions treated with BWSV in glucosamine Ringer's and post-treated with antivenin recover normal function. This suggests that probably the permanent block of neuromuscular transmission is due to changes in permeability of the nerve ending plasma membrane to cations such as Na+. When BWSV is applied in a medium lacking divalent cations and containing 1 mM EGTA, in most of the cases no effect is observed. We found that this inhibition can be overcome in three ways: (a) by adding divalent cations to the medium; (b) by increasing the tonicity of the medium with sucrose; (c) by raising the temperature of the medium. These results suggest that the lack of divalent cations influences the membrane fluidity. Moreover, in view of the report by Yahara and Kakimoto-Sameshima (1977. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 74:4511--4515) that hypertonic media induce capping of surface receptors in lymphocytes and thymocytes, we think that these data further support the hypothesis that BWSV stimulates release by a dual mode of action; namely, it increases the nerve ending permeability to cations and also stimulates release directly via a process of redistribution of membrane components, a process which may also inhibit vesicle recycling.

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