The mechanism of charybdotoxin (CTX) block of single Ca2+-activated K+ channels from rat muscle was studied in planar lipid bilayers. CTX blocks the channel from the external solution, and K+ in the internal solution specifically relieves toxin block. The effect of K+ is due solely to an enhancement of the CTX dissociation rate. As internal K+ is raised, the CTX dissociation rate increases in a rectangular hyperbolic fashion from a minimum value at low K+ of 0.01 s-1 to a maximum value of approximately 0.2 s-1. As the membrane is depolarized, internal K+ more effectively accelerates CTX dissociation. As the membrane is hyperpolarized, the toxin dissociation rate approaches 0.01 s-1, regardless of the K+ concentration. When internal K+ is replaced by Na+, CTX dissociation is no longer voltage dependent. The permeant ion Rb also accelerates toxin dissociation from the internal solution, while the impermeant ions Li, Na, Cs, and arginine do not. These results argue that K ions can enter the CTX-blocked channel from the internal solution to reach a site located nearly all the way through the conduction pathway; when K+ occupies this site, CTX is destabilized on its blocking site by approximately 1.8 kcal/mol. The most natural way to accommodate these conclusions is to assume that CTX physically plugs the channel's externally facing mouth.

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