The mechanism of block of voltage-dependent Na+ channels by extracellular divalent cations was investigated in a quantitative comparison of two distinct Na+ channel subtypes incorporated into planar bilayers in the presence of batrachotoxin. External Ca2+ and other divalent cations induced a fast voltage-dependent block observed as a reduction in unitary current for tetrodotoxin-sensitive Na+ channels of rat skeletal muscle and tetrodotoxin-insensitive Na+ channels of canine heart ventricular muscle. Using a simple model of voltage-dependent binding to a single site, these two distinct Na+ channel subtypes exhibited virtually the same affinity and voltage dependence for fast block by Ca2+ and a number of other divalent cations. This group of divalent cations exhibited an affinity sequence of Co congruent to Ni greater than Mn greater than Ca greater than Mg greater than Sr greater than Ba, following an inverse correlation between binding affinity and ionic radius. The voltage dependence of fast Ca2+ block was essentially independent of CaCl2 concentration; however, at constant voltage the Ca2+ concentration dependence of fast block deviated from a Langmuir isotherm in the manner expected for an effect of negative surface charge. Titration curves for fast Ca2+ block were fit to a simplified model based on a single Ca2+ binding site and the Gouy-Chapman theory of surface charge. This model gave similar estimates of negative surface charge density in the vicinity of the Ca2+ blocking site for muscle and heart Na+ channels. In contrast to other divalent cations listed above, Cd2+ and Zn2+ are more potent blockers of heart Na+ channels than muscle Na+ channels. Cd2+ induced a fast, voltage-dependent block in both Na+ channel subtypes with a 46-fold higher affinity at 0 mV for heart (KB = 0.37 mM) vs. muscle (KB = 17 mM). Zn2+ induced a fast, voltage-dependent block of muscle Na+ channels with low affinity (KB = 7.5 mM at 0 mV). In contrast, micromolar Zn2+ induced brief closures of heart Na+ channels that were resolved as discrete substate events at the single-channel level with an apparent blocking affinity of KB = 0.067 mM at 0 mV, or 110-fold higher affinity for Zn2+ compared with the muscle channel. High-affinity block of the heart channel by Cd2+ and Zn2+ exhibited approximately the same voltage dependence (e-fold per 60 mV) as low affinity block of the muscle subtype (e-fold per 54 mV), suggesting that the block occurs at structurally analogous sites in the two Na+ channels.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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