Calcium-activated potassium channels from cultured rat skeletal muscle were treated with the protein-modifying reagent N-bromoacetamide (NBA) (0.3-1 mM) and studied in excised patches using patch-clamp techniques. After NBA treatment, channels opened only occasionally, and, in contrast to untreated channels, the open probability was no longer sensitive to intracellular surface calcium ions (1 nM to 100 microM). Channel activity did, however, exhibit a voltage dependence similar in direction and magnitude to that shown before NBA treatment (increasing e-fold with 19 mV depolarization). Distributions of open channel lifetimes revealed that NBA treatment virtually abolished openings of long duration, which suggests that this class of openings requires calcium sensitivity. These effects were not reversed by subsequent washing. Quantitatively similar open probability, voltage dependence, and open-interval distributions were observed in untreated channels in calcium-free medium. These results suggest that NBA removed a calcium-dependent component of channel opening, and that normal channels are able to open in the absence of significant intracellular calcium concentrations.

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