The effect of elevated divalent cation concentration on the kinetics of sodium ionic and gating currents was studied in voltage-clamped frog skeletal muscle fibers. Raising the Ca concentration from 2 to 40 mM resulted in nearly identical 30-mV shifts in the time courses of activation, inactivation, tail current decay, and ON and OFF gating currents, and in the steady state levels of inactivation, charge immobilization, and charge vs. voltage. Adding 38 mM Mg to the 2 mM Ca bathing a fiber produced a smaller shift of approximately 20 mV in gating current kinetics and the charge vs. voltage relationship. The results with both Ca and Mg are consistent with the hypothesis that elevated concentrations of these alkali earth cations alter Na channel gating by changing the membrane surface potential. The different shifts produced by Ca and Mg are consistent with the hypothesis that the two ions bind to fixed membrane surface charges with different affinities, in addition to possible screening.

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