Voltage-dependent charge movements were measured in the rat omohyoid muscle with the three-microelectrode voltage-clamp technique. Contraction was abolished with hypertonic sucrose. The standard (ON-OFF) protocol for eliciting charge movements was to depolarize the fiber from -90 mV to a variable test potential (V) and then repolarize the fiber to -90 mV. The quantity of charge moved saturated at test potentials of approximately 0 mV. The steady state dependence of the amount of charge that moves as a function of test potential could be well fitted by the Boltzmann relation: Q = Qmax/(1 + exp[-(V - V)/k]), where Qmax is the maximum charge that can be moved, V is the potential at which half the charge moves, and k is a constant. At 15 degrees C, these values were Qmax = 28.5 nC/microF, V = -34.2 mV, and k = 8.7 mV. Qmax, k, and V exhibited little temperature dependence over the range 7-25 degrees C. "Stepped OFF" charge movements were elicited by depolarizing the fiber from -90 mV to a fixed conditioning level that moved nearly all the mobile charge (0 mV), and then repolarizing the fiber to varying test potentials. The sum of the charge that moved when the fiber was depolarized directly from -90 mV to a given test potential and the stepped OFF charge that moved when the fiber was repolarized to the same test potential had at all test potentials a value close to Qmax for that fiber. In nearly all cases, the decay phase of ON, OFF, and stepped OFF charge movements could be well fitted with a single exponential. The time constant, tau decay, for an ON charge movement at a given test potential was comparable to tau decay for a stepped OFF charge movement at the same test potential. Tau decay had a bell-shaped dependence on membrane potential: it was slowest at a potential near V (the midpoint of the steady state charge distribution) and became symmetrically faster on either side of this potential. Raising the temperature from 7 to 15 degrees C caused tau decay to become faster by about the same proportion at all potentials, with a Q10 averaging 2.16. Raising the temperature from 15 to 25 degrees C caused tau decay to become faster at potentials near V, but not at potentials farther away.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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