Highly purified sodium channel protein from the electric eel, Electrophorus electricus, was reconstituted into liposomes and incorporated into planar bilayers made from neutral phospholipids dissolved in decane. The purest sodium channel preparations consisted of only the large, 260-kD tetrodotoxin (TTX)-binding polypeptide. For all preparations, batrachotoxin (BTX) induced long-lived single-channel currents (25 pS at 500 mM NaCl) that showed voltage-dependent activation and were blocked by TTX. This block was also voltage dependent, with negative potentials increasing block. The permeability ratios were 4.7 for Na+:K+ and 1.6 for Na+:Li+. The midpoint for steady state activation occurred around -70 mV and did not shift significantly when the NaCl concentration was increased from 50 to 1,000 mM. Veratridine-induced single-channel currents were about half the size of those activated by BTX. Unpurified, nonsolubilized sodium channels from E. electricus membrane fragments were also incorporated into planar bilayers. There were no detectable differences in the characteristics of unpurified and purified sodium channels, although membrane stability was considerably higher when purified material was used. Thus, in the eel, the large, 260-kD polypeptide alone is sufficient to demonstrate single-channel activity like that observed for mammalian sodium channel preparations in which smaller subunits have been found.

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