Ionic currents induced by 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) in cultured neuroblastoma N18 cells were studied using whole-cell voltage clamp. The response was blocked by 1-10 nM 5-HT3 receptor-specific antagonists MDL 7222 or ICS 205-930, but not by 1 microM 5-HT1/5-HT2 receptor antagonist spiperone or 5-HT2 receptor-specific antagonist ketanserin. These 5-HT3 receptors seem to be ligand-gated channels because the response (a) did not require internal ATP or GTP, (b) persisted with long internal dialysis of CsF (90 mM), A1F4- (100 microM), or GTP gamma S (100 microM), and (c) with ionophoretic delivery of 5-HT developed with a delay of less than 10 ms and rose to a peak in 34-130 ms. Fluctuation analysis yielded an apparent single-channel conductance of 593 fS. The relative permeabilities of the channel for a variety of ions were determined from reversal potentials. The channel was only weakly selective among small cations, with permeability ratios PX/PNa of 1.22, 1.10, 1.01, 1.00, and 0.99 for Cs+, K+, Li+, Na+, and Rb+, and 1.12, 0.79, and 0.73 for Ca2+, Ba2+, and Mg2+ (when studied in mixtures of 20 mM divalent ions and 120 mM N-methyl-D-glucamine). Apparent permeability ratios for the divalent ions decreased as the concentration of divalent ions was increased. Small monovalent organic cations were highly permeant. Large organic cations such as Tris and glucosamine were measurably permeant with permeability ratios of 0.20 and 0.08, and N-methyl-D-glucamine was almost impermeant. Small anions, NO3-, Cl-, and F-, were slightly permeant with permeability ratios of 0.08, 0.04, and 0.03. The results indicate that the open 5-HT3 receptor channel has an effective minimum circular pore size of 7.6 A and that ionic interactions in the channel may involve negative charges near the pore mouth.

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