Spontaneously beating aggregates of cultured embryonic chick cardiac myocytes, maintained at 37 degrees C, were voltage clamped using a single microelectrode switching clamp to measure the current generated by the Na/K pump (Ip). In resting, steady-state preparations an ouabain-sensitive current of 0.46 +/- 0.03 microA/cm2 (n = 22) was identified. This current was not affected by 1 mM Ba, which was used to reduce inward rectifier current (IK1) and linearize the current-voltage relationship. When K-free solution was used to block Ip, subsequent addition of Ko reactivated the Na/K pump, generating an outward reactivation current that was also ouabain sensitive. The reactivation current magnitude was a saturating function of Ko with a Hill coefficient of 1.7 and K0.5 of 1.9 mM in the presence of 144 mM Nao. The reactivation current was increased in magnitude when Nai was increased by lengthening the period of time that the preparation was exposed to K-free solution prior to reactivation. When Nai was raised by 3 microM monensin, steady-state Ip was increased more than threefold above the resting value to 1.74 +/- 0.09 microA/cm2 (n = 11). From these measurements and other published data we calculate that in a resting myocyte: (a) the steady-state Ip should hyperpolarize the membrane by 6.5 mV, (b) the turnover rate of the Na/K pump is 29 s-1, and (c) the Na influx is 14.3 pmol/cm2.s. We conclude that in cultured embryonic chick cardiac myocytes, the Na/K pump generates a measurable current which, under certain conditions, can be isolated from other membrane currents and has properties similar to those reported for adult cardiac cells.

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