Charybdotoxin (CTX), a small, basic protein from scorpion venom, strongly inhibits the conduction of K ions through high-conductance, Ca2+-activated K+ channels. The interaction of CTX with Ca2+-activated K+ channels from rat skeletal muscle plasma membranes was studied by inserting single channels into uncharged planar phospholipid bilayers. CTX blocks K+ conduction by binding to the external side of the channel, with an apparent dissociation constant of approximately 10 nM at physiological ionic strength. The dwell-time distributions of both blocked and unblocked states are single-exponential. The toxin association rate varies linearly with the CTX concentration, and the dissociation rate is independent of it. CTX is competent to block both open and closed channels; the association rate is sevenfold faster for the open channel, while the dissociation rate is the same for both channel conformations. Membrane depolarization enhances the CTX dissociation rate e-fold/28 mV; if the channel's open probability is maintained constant as voltage varies, then the toxin association rate is voltage independent. Increasing the external solution ionic strength from 20 to 300 mM (with K+, Na+, or arginine+) reduces the association rate by two orders of magnitude, with little effect on the dissociation rate. We conclude that CTX binding to the Ca2+-activated K+ channel is a bimolecular process, and that the CTX interaction senses both voltage and the channel's conformational state. We further propose that a region of fixed negative charge exists near the channel's CTX-binding site.

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