We have applied patch-clamp techniques to on-cell and excised-membrane patches from human retinal pigment epithelial cells in tissue culture. Single-channel currents from at least four ion channel types were observed: three or more potassium-selective channels with single-channel slope conductances near 100, 45, and 25 pS as measured in on-cell patches with physiological saline in the pipette, and a relatively nonselective channel with subconductance states, which has a main-state conductance of approximately 300 pS at physiological ion concentrations. The permeability ratios, PK/PNa, measured in excised patches were 21 for the 100-pS channels, 3 for the 25-pS channels, and 0.8 for the 300-pS nonselective channel. The 45-pS channels appeared to be of at least two types, with PK/PNa's of approximately 41 for one type and 3 for the other. The potassium-selective channels were spontaneously active at all potentials examined. The average open time for these channels ranged from a few milliseconds to many tens of milliseconds. No consistent trend relating potassium-selective channel kinetics to membrane potential was apparent, which suggests that channel activity was not regulated by the membrane potential. In contrast to the potassium-selective channels, the activity of the nonselective channel was voltage dependent: the open probability of this channel declined to low values at large positive or negative membrane potentials and was maximal near zero. Single-channel conductances observed at several symmetrical KCl concentrations have been fitted with Michaelis-Menten curves in order to estimate maximum channel conductances and ion-binding constants for the different channel types. The channels we have recorded are probably responsible for the previously observed potassium permeability of the retinal pigment epithelium apical membrane.

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