The voltage-dependent gating of single, batrachotoxin-activated Na channels from rat brain was studied in planar lipid bilayers composed of negatively charged or neutral phospholipids. The relationship between the probability of finding the Na channel in the open state and the membrane potential (Po vs. Vm) was determined in symmetrical NaCl, both in the absence of free Ca2+ and after the addition of Ca2+ to the extracellular side of the channel, the intracellular side, or both. In the absence of Ca2+, neither the midpoint (V0.5) of the Po vs. Vm relation, nor the steepness of the gating curve, was affected by the charge on the bilayer lipid. The addition of 7.5 mM Ca2+ to the external side caused a depolarizing shift in V0.5. This depolarizing shift was approximately 17 mV in neutral bilayers and approximately 25 mV in negatively charged bilayers. The addition of the same concentration of Ca2+ to only the intracellular side caused hyperpolarizing shifts in V0.5 of approximately 7 mV (neutral bilayers) and approximately 14 mV (negatively charged bilayers). The symmetrical addition of Ca2+ caused a small depolarizing shift in Po vs. Vm. We conclude that: (a) the Na channel protein possesses negatively charged groups on both its inner and outer surfaces. Charges on both surfaces affect channel gating but those on the outer surface exert a stronger influence. (b) Negative surface charges on the membrane phospholipid are close enough to the channel's gating machinery to substantially affect its operation. Charges on the inner and outer surfaces of the membrane lipid affect gating symmetrically. (c) Effects on steady-state Na channel activation are consistent with a simple superposition of contributions to the local electrostatic potential from charges on the channel protein and the membrane lipid.

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