Sodium currents were recorded in cell-attached and inside-out patches from the innervated membrane of Electrophorus electrocytes. Electrocytes from Sachs and main electric organs were prepared as described by Pasquale et al. (1986. J. Membr. Biol. 93:195.). Maximal currents in the Sachs organ, measured with 1-2 microns diameter patch pipettes and at room temperature, were in the range of 20 to 300 pA (27 patches) and were obtained near +10 mV. This range of current corresponds to approximately 70 to 1,300 channels in a patch. Maximal current in main organ cells also occurred near +10 mV and were in the range of 100 to 400 pA. Delayed K current was observed in a few patches. The inactivation phase of the currents during maintained depolarizations appears to be a single-exponential relaxation. The time constant decreases from 1 ms near -55 mV to a minimum of 0.3 ms near 0 mV, and then gradually increases with stronger depolarization. The mean currents are half inactivated near -90 mV with an apparent voltage dependence of e-fold per 6 mV. No apparent differences were observed in the decay time course or steady-state inactivation of the currents in the same patch before and after excision. From ensemble fluctuation analysis the peak open probability was found to be approximately 0.5 at +25 mV and increased only gradually with larger depolarizations. The single channel conductances were approximately 20 pS with 200 mM Na outside and 200 mM K inside, and 40 pS in 400 mM solutions. Reversal potentials in the 200 Na parallel 200 K solutions ranged from +51 to +94 mV in multichannel patches, corresponding to selectivity ratios PNa/PK from 8 to 43. Large differences in reversal potentials were seen even among patches from the same cell. Several controls rule out obvious sources of error in the reversal potential measurements. It is concluded that there is heterogeneity in the selectivity properties of the Na channels.

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