The conductance of junctions between amphibian blastomeres is strongly voltage dependent. Isolated pairs of blastomeres from embryos of Ambystoma mexicanum, Xenopus laevis, and Rana pipiens were voltage clamped, and junctional current was measured during transjunctional voltage steps. The steady-state junctional conductance decreases as a steep function of transjunctional voltage of either polarity. A voltage-insensitive conductance less than 5% of the maximum remains at large transjunctional voltages. Equal transjunctional voltages of opposite polarities produce equal conductance changes. The conductance is half maximal at a transjunctional voltage of approximately 15 mV. The junctional conductance is insensitive to the potential between the inside and outside of the cells. The changes in steady-state junctional conductance may be accurately modeled for voltages of each polarity as arising from a reversible two-state system in which voltage linearly affects the energy difference between states. The voltage sensitivity can be accounted for by the movement of about six electron charges through the transjunctional voltage. The changes in junctional conductance are not consistent with a current-controlled or ionic accumulation mechanism. We propose that the intramembrane particles that comprise gap junctions in early amphibian embryos are voltage-sensitive channels.

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