The role of a guanine nucleotide-binding protein (Gk) in the coupling between muscarinic receptor activation and opening of an inwardly rectifying K+ channel [IK(M)] was examined in cardiac atrial myocytes, using hydrolysis-resistant GTP analogues. In the absence of muscarinic agonist, GTP analogues produced a membrane current characteristic of IK(M). The initial rate of appearance of this receptor-independent IK(M) was measured for the various analogues in order to explore the kinetic properties of IK(M) activation. We found that IK(M) activation is controlled solely by the intracellular analogue/GTP ratio and not by the absolute concentrations of the nucleotides. Analogues competed with GTP for binding to Gk with the following relative affinities: GTP gamma S greater than GTP greater than GppNHp greater than GppCH2p. At sufficiently high intracellular concentrations, however, all GTP analogues produced the same rate of IK(M) activation. This analogue-independent limiting rate is likely to correspond to the rate of GDP release from inactive, GDP-bound Gk. Muscarinic receptor stimulation by nanomolar concentrations of acetylcholine (ACh), which do not elicit IK(M) under control conditions, catalyzed IK(M) activation in the presence of GTP analogues. The rate of Gk activation by ACh (kACh) was found to be described by the simple relationship kACh = 8.4 X 10(8) min-1 M-1.[ACh] + 0.44 min-1, the first term of which presumably reflects the agonist-catalyzed rate of GDP release from the Gk.GDP complex, while the second term corresponds to the basal rate of receptor-independent GDP release. Combined with the estimated K0.5 of the IK(M)-[ACh] dose-effect relationship, 160 nM, this result also allowed us to estimate the rate of Gk.GTP hydrolysis, kcat, to be near 135 min-1. These results provide, for the first time, a quantitative description of the salient features of G-protein function in vivo.

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