The potencies of saxitoxin (STX) and of five structurally related toxins were determined by their ability to block impulses at equilibrium in frog sciatic nerve. The order of potency, with values relative to STX potency in parentheses, was: neo-STX (4.5) greater than gonyautoxin (GTX) III (1.4) greater than STX (1.0) greater than GTXII (0.22) greater than 12 alpha-dihydroSTX (0.050) greater than 12 beta-dihydroSTX (0.0014). When equipotent solutions of STX and neo-STX were exchanged, impulses in the treated nerve were transiently overblocked or underblocked, thus kinetically distinguishing neo-STX from STX. Similar phenomena occurred with exchanges of STX and GTXIII. No consistent evidence was found for any blocking activity of STX molecules that were not protonated at the C8 guanidinium, but the pH dependence of STX potency cannot be described simply by the titration of this guanidinium group. The effects of pH and of various substituents on STX potency are accounted for by changes in the molecular forms of STX and by alterations in specific electrical charges on STX and at the receptor. The results support a model in which toxin molecules bind in two steps; initial binding of the C8 guanidinium to an anionic group induces the loss of water from the normally hydrated ketone (at carbon 12), which then forms a weak covalent bond with a nucleophilic group on the receptor.

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