Voltage-clamped squid giant axons, perfused internally and externally with solutions containing 10(-5) M dipicrylamine (DpA-), show very large polarization currents (greater than or equal to 1 mA/cm2) in response to voltage steps. The induced polarization currents are shown in the frequency domain as a very large voltage-and frequency-dependent capacitance that can be fit by single Debye-type relaxations. In the time domain, the decay phase of the induced currents can be fit by single exponentials. The induced polarization currents can also be observed in the presence of large sodium and potassium currents. The presence of the DpA- molecules does not affect the resting potential of the axons, but the action potentials appear graded, with a much-reduced rate of rise. The data in the time domain as well as the frequency domain can be explained by a single-barrier model where the DpA- molecules translocate for an equivalent fraction of the electric field of 0.63, and the forward and backward rate constants are equal at -15 mV. When the induced polarization currents described here are added to the total ionic current expression given by Hodgkin and Huxley (1952), numerical solutions of the membrane action potential reproduce qualitatively our experimental data. Numerical solutions of the propagated action potential predict that large changes in the speed of conduction are possible when polarization currents are induced in the axonal membrane. We speculate that either naturally occurring substances or drugs could alter the cable properties of cells in a similar manner.

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