The mechanism of voltage-dependent substate production by external Zn2+ in batrachotoxin-modified Na+ channels from canine heart was investigated by analysis of the current-voltage behavior and single-channel kinetics of substate events. At the single-channel level the addition of external Zn2+ results in an increasing frequency of substate events with a mean duration of approximately 15-25 ms for the substate dwell time observed in the range of -70 to +70 mV. Under conditions of symmetrical 0.2 M NaCl, the open state of cardiac Na+ channels displays ohmic current-voltage behavior in the range of -90 to +100 mV, with a slope conductance of 21 pS. In contrast, the Zn2(+)-induced substate exhibits significant outward rectification with a slope conductance of 3.1 pS in the range of -100 to -50 mV and 5.1 pS in the range of +50 to +100 mV. Analysis of dwell-time histograms of substate events as a function of Zn2+ concentration and voltage led to the consideration of two types of models that may explain this behavior. Using a simple one-site blocking model, the apparent association rate for Zn2+ binding is more strongly voltage dependent (decreasing e-fold per +60 mV) than the Zn2+ dissociation rate (increasing e-fold per +420 mV). However, this simple blocking model cannot account for the dependence of the apparent dissociation rate on Zn2+ concentration. To explain this result, a four-state kinetic scheme involving a Zn2(+)-induced conformational change from a high conductance conformation to a substate conformation is proposed. This model, similar to one introduced by Pietrobon et al. (1989. J. Gen. Physiol. 94:1-24) for H(+)-induced substate behavior in L-type Ca2+ channels, is able to simulate the kinetic and equilibrium behavior of the primary Zn2(+)-induced substate process in heart Na+ channels. This model implies that binding of Zn2+ greatly enhances conversion of the open, ohmic channel to a low conductance conformation with an asymmetric energy profile for Na+ permeation.

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