Components of nonlinear capacitance, or charge movement, were localized in the membranes of frog skeletal muscle fibers by studying the effect of 'detubulation' resulting from sudden withdrawal of glycerol from a glycerol-hypertonic solution in which the muscles had been immersed. Linear capacitance was evaluated from the integral of the transient current elicited by imposed voltage clamp steps near the holding potential using bathing solutions that minimized tubular voltage attenuation. The dependence of linear membrane capacitance on fiber diameter in intact fibers was consistent with surface and tubular capacitances and a term attributable to the capacitance of the fiber end. A reduction in this dependence in detubulated fibers suggested that sudden glycerol withdrawal isolated between 75 and 100% of the transverse tubules from the fiber surface. Glycerol withdrawal in two stages did not cause appreciable detubulation. Such glycerol-treated but not detubulated fibers were used as controls. Detubulation reduced delayed (q gamma) charging currents to an extent not explicable simply in terms of tubular conduction delays. Nonlinear membrane capacitance measured at different voltages was expressed normalized to accessible linear fiber membrane capacitance. In control fibers it was strongly voltage dependent. Both the magnitude and steepness of the function were markedly reduced by adding tetracaine, which removed a component in agreement with earlier reports for q gamma charge. In contrast, detubulated fibers had nonlinear capacitances resembling those of q beta charge, and were not affected by adding tetracaine. These findings are discussed in terms of a preferential localization of tetracaine-sensitive (q gamma) charge in transverse tubule membrane, in contrast to a more even distribution of the tetracaine-resistant (q beta) charge in both transverse tubule and surface membranes. These results suggest that q beta and q gamma are due to different molecules and that the movement of q gamma in the transverse tubule membrane is the voltage-sensing step in excitation-contraction coupling.

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