In clonal pituitary (GH3) cells we studied the changes in sodium channel gating caused by substitution of La3+ for Ca2+ ion. Gating of sodium channels was simplified by using intracellular papain to remove inactivation. To quantify La effects, we empirically fitted closing and the late phase of opening of the channels with single exponentials, determined the opening (a) and closing (b) rate, and plotted these rates as a function of Vm (membrane voltage). The midpoint of the fraction open-Vm curve was also determined. Changing from Ca to La shifted the curves for these three measures of Na channel gating along the voltage axis and changed their shape somewhat. Surface charge theory, in the form usually presented, predicts equal shifts of all three curves, with no change in shape. We found, however, that the shift for each of the measurements was different. 2 mM La, for example, shifted opening kinetics by +52 mV (i.e., 52 mV must be added to the depolarization to make activation in 2 mM La as fast as in 2 mM Ca), the fraction open voltage curve by +42.5 mV, and the closing rate curve by +28 mV. The shift was an almost linear function of log [La] for each of the measures. The main finding is that changing from 2 mM Ca to 10 microM La causes a positive shift of the opening rate and fraction open curves, but a negative shift of the closing rate curve. The opposite signs of the two effects cannot be explained in terms of surface charge theory. We briefly discuss some alternatives to this theory.

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