K-stimulated (voltage-dependent) influx of 45Ca was measured in synaptosomes (isolated presynaptic nerve terminals) from rat brain. Influx was terminated at 1 s with a rapid-filtration technique, so that most of the Ca uptake was mediated by inactivating ("fast") Ca channels (Nachshen, D. A., and Blaustein, M. P., 1980, J. Gen. Physiol., 76:709-728). This influx was blocked by multivalent cations with half-inhibition constants (K1) that clustered in three distinct groups: (a) K1 greater than 1 mM (Mg2+, Sr2+, and Ba2+); (b) K1 = 30-100 microM (Mn2+, Co2+, Ni2+, Cu2+, Zn2+, and Hg2+); (c) K1 less than 1 micro M (Cd2+, Y3+, La3+ and the trivalent lanthanides, and Pb2+). Most of these ions had very little effect on synaptosome steady state membrane potential, which was monitored with a voltage-sensitive fluorescent dye, or on the voltage dependence of Ca influx, which was assessed by measuring voltage-dependent Ca uptake at two levels of depolarization. The blockers inhibited Ca influx by competing with Ca for the channel site that is involved in the transport of divalent cations. Onset of fast channel inhibition by Mg, Co, Ni, Cu, Zn, Cd, La, Hg, and Pb was rapid, occurring within 1 s; inhibition was similar after 1 s or 30 min of exposure to these ions. The inhibition produced by Co, Cu, Zn, Cd, La, and Pb could be substantially reversed within 1 s by removing the inhibitory cation. The relative efficacies of the lanthanides as fast channel blockers were compared; there was a decrease in inhibitory potency with decreasing ionic radius. A model of the Ca channel binding site is considered, in which inhibitory polyvalent cation selectivity is determined primarily by coulombic interactions between the binding site and the different cations. The site is envisaged as consisting of two anions (radius 1 A) with a separation of 2 A between them. Small cations are unable to bind effectively to both anions. The selectivity sequences predicted for the alkaline earth cations, lanthanides, and transition metals are in substantial agreement with the selectivity sequences observed for inhibition of the fast Ca channel.

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