The rapid inward sodium current in spherical clusters of 11-d-old embryonic chick heart cells, ranging in size between 65 and 90 micron diameter, was studied using the two-microelectrode voltage-clamp technique. Using these preparations, it was possible to resolve the activation phase of the rapid inward current for potentials negative to -25 mV at 37 degrees C. The rapid inward current exhibited a voltage and time dependence similar to that observed in other excitable tissues. It was initiated at potential steps more positive than -45 mV. The magnitude of the current reached its maximum value at a potential of approximately -20 mV. The measured reversal potential was that predicted by the Nernst equation for sodium ions. The falling phase of the current followed a single exponential time-course with a time constant of inactivation, tau h, ranging between 2.14 ms at -40 mV and 0.18 ms at -5 mV. The time constant of inactivation, tau h, determined by a single voltage-step protocol was compared to the constant, tau c, determined by a double voltage-step protocol and no significant different between the two constants of inactivation was found. Furthermore, the time constants of inactivation and reactivation at the same potential in the same preparation were similar. The results of this study demonstrate that the sodium current of heart cells recorded at 37 degrees C can be described by Hodgkin-Huxley kinetics with speeds approximately four times faster than the squid giant axon at 15 degrees C.

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