We have studied the effects of temperature changes on Na currents in squid giant axons. Decreases in temperature in the 15-1 degrees C range decrease peak Na current with a Q10 of 2.2. Steady state currents, which are tetrodotoxin sensitive and have the same reversal potential as peak currents, are almost unaffected by temperature changes. After removal of inactivation by pronase treatment, steady state current amplitude has a Q10 of 2.3. Na currents generated at large positive voltages sometimes exhibit a biphasic activation pattern. The first phase activates rapidly and partially inactivates and is followed by a secondary slow current increase that lasts several milliseconds. Peak Na current amplitude can be increased by delivering large positive prepulses, an effect that is more pronounced at low temperatures. The slow activation phase is eliminated after a positive prepulse. The results are consistent with the hypothesis that there are two forms of the Na channel: (a) rapidly activating channels that completely inactivate, and (b) slowly activating "sleepy" channels that inactivate slowly if at all. Some fast channels are assumed to be converted to sleepy channels by cooling, possibly because of a phase transition in the membrane. The existence of sleepy channels complicates the determination of the Q10 of gating parameters and single-channel conductance.

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