Phosphorylation of the delayed rectifier channel of squid potentiates the macroscopic K+ current and slows its activation kinetics. We have studied this phenomenon at the single channel level using the cut-open axon technique under steady-state conditions. In 10 mM external K+/310 mM internal K+ there are predominantly two types of channels present, a 20-pS and a 40-pS channel. In steady state at depolarized potentials, the 40-pS channel was most active, whereas the 20-pS channel tended to disappear due to a slow inactivation process. Two methods were developed to shift the population of channels toward a dephosphorylated state. One method consisted of predialyzing a whole axon with solutions containing no ATP, while recording the currents under axial-wire voltage clamp. A piece of axon was then removed and cut open, and single channel currents were recorded from the cut-open axon. A second method was based on the difference in diffusion coefficients for ATP and proteins such as the endogenous phosphatase. The axon was cut open in a solution that did not contain Ca2+ or Cl- in order to maintain the axoplasm structurally intact and permit endogenous phosphatase to act on the membrane while ATP diffused away, before removing the axoplasm and forming a membrane patch. When dephosphorylating conditions were used, the steady-state open probability of the 40-pS channel at 42 mV was very low (less than 0.0002), and the channel openings appeared as a series of infrequent, short-duration events. The channel activity was increased up to 150-fold by photoreleasing caged ATP inside the patch pipette in the presence of the catalytic subunit of protein kinase A. The sharp increase in open probability could be accounted for by a decrease of the slow component of the closed time distribution from 23 s to 170 ms with little change in the distribution of open times (1-2 ms) and no change in the single channel current amplitude. In voltage-jump experiments the contribution of the 40-pS channel to the delayed rectifier current was often small due to the large values of the latency to the first opening.

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