The effects of a neurotoxin, purified from the venom of the scorpion Leiurus quinquestriatus, on the ionic currents of toad single myelinated fibers were studied under voltage-clamp conditions. Unlike previous investigations using crude scorpion venom, purified Leiurus toxin II alpha at high concentrations (200-400 nM) did not affect the K currents, nor did it reduce the peak Na current in the early stages of treatment. The activation of the Na channel was unaffected by the toxin, the activation time course remained unchanged, and the peak Na current vs. voltage relationship was not altered. In contrast, Na channel inactivation was considerably slowed and became incomplete. As a result, a steady state Na current was maintained during prolonged depolarizations of several seconds. These steady state Na currents had a different voltage dependence from peak Na currents and appeared to result from the opening of previously inactivated Na channels. The opening kinetics of the steady state current were exponential and had rates approximately 100-fold slower than the normal activation processes described for transitions from the resting state to the open state. In addition, the dependence of the peak Na current on the potential of preceding conditioning pulses was also dramatically altered by toxin treatment; this parameter reached a minimal value near a membrane potential of -50 mV and then increased continuously to a "plateau" value at potentials greater than +50 mV. The amplitude of this plateau was dependent on toxin concentration, reaching a maximum value equal to approximately 50% of the peak current; voltage-dependent reversal of the toxin's action limits the amplitude of the plateauing effect. The measured plateau effect was half-maximum at a toxin concentration of 12 nM, a value quite similar to the concentration producing half of the maximum slowing of Na channel inactivation. The results of Hill plots for these actions suggest that one toxin molecule binds to one Na channel. Thus, the binding of a single toxin molecule probably both produces the steady state currents and slows the Na channel inactivation. We propose that Leiurus toxin inhibits the conversion of the open state to inactivated states in a voltage-dependent manner, and thereby permits a fraction of the total Na permeability to remain at membrane potentials where inactivation is normally complete.

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