0 1 2 Time (milliseconds)

Figure 5-9

Typical changes In conductance of sodium and potassium Ion channels when the membrane potential is suddenly increased from the normal resting value of -90 millivolts to a positive value of +10 millivolts for 2 milliseconds. This figure shows that the sodium channels open (activate) and then close (inactivate) before the end of the 2 milliseconds, whereas the potassium channels only open (activate), and the rate of opening is much slower than that of the sodium channels.

Figure 5-8 shows an experimental apparatus called a voltage clamp, which is used to measure flow of ions through the different channels. In using this apparatus, two electrodes are inserted into the nerve fiber. One of these is to measure the voltage of the membrane potential, and the other is to conduct electrical current into or out of the nerve fiber. This apparatus is used in the following way: The investigator decides which voltage he or she wants to establish inside the nerve fiber. The electronic portion of the apparatus is then adjusted to the desired voltage, and this automatically injects either positive or negative electricity through the current electrode at whatever rate is required to hold the voltage, as measured by the voltage electrode, at the level set by the operator. When the membrane potential is suddenly increased by this voltage clamp from -90 millivolts to zero, the voltage-gated sodium and potassium channels open, and sodium and potassium ions begin to pour through the channels. To counterbalance the effect of these ion movements on the desired setting of the intra-cellular voltage, electrical current is injected automatically through the current electrode of the voltage clamp to maintain the intracellular voltage at the required steady zero level. To achieve this, the current injected must be equal to but of opposite polarity to the net current flow through the membrane channels. To measure how much current flow is occurring at each instant, the current electrode is connected to an oscilloscope that records the current flow, as demonstrated on the screen of the oscilloscope in Figure 5-8. Finally, the investigator adjusts the concentrations of the ions to other than normal levels both inside and outside the nerve fiber and repeats the study. This can be done easily when using large nerve fibers removed from some crustaceans, especially the giant squid axon, which in some cases is as large as 1 millimeter in diameter. When sodium is the only permeant ion in the solutions inside and outside the squid axon, the voltage clamp measures current flow only through the sodium channels. When potassium is the only permeant ion, current flow only through the potassium channels is measured.

Another means for studying the flow of ions through an individual type of channel is to block one type of channel at a time. For instance, the sodium channels can be blocked by a toxin called tetrodotoxin by applying it to the outside of the cell membrane where the sodium activation gates are located. Conversely, tetraethylam-monium ion blocks the potassium channels when it is applied to the interior of the nerve fiber.

Figure 5-9 shows typical changes in conductance of the voltage-gated sodium and potassium channels when the membrane potential is suddenly changed by use of the voltage clamp from -90 millivolts to +10 millivolts and then, 2 milliseconds later, back to -90 millivolts. Note the sudden opening of the sodium channels (the activation stage) within a small fraction of a millisecond after the membrane potential is increased to the positive value. However, during the next millisecond or so, the sodium channels automatically close (the inactiva-tion stage).

Note the opening (activation) of the potassium channels. These open slowly and reach their full open state only after the sodium channels have almost completely closed. Further, once the potassium channels open, they remain open for the entire duration of the positive membrane potential and do not close again until after the membrane potential is decreased back to a negative value.

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