A voltage- and time-dependent conductance for sodium ions is responsible for the generation of impulses in most nerve and muscle cells1. Changes in the sodium conductance are produced by the opening and closing of many discrete transmembrane channels2. We present here the first report of electrical recordings from voltage-dependent sodium channels incorporated into planar lipid bilayers. In bilayers with many channels, batrachotoxin3 (BTX) induced a steady-state sodium current that was blocked by saxitoxin4 (STX) at nanomolar concentrations. All channels appeared in the bilayer with their STX blocking sites facing the side of vesicle addition, allowing us to define that as the extracellular side. Current fluctuations due to the opening and closing of single BTX-activated sodium channels were voltage-dependent (unit conductance, 30 pS in 0.5 M NaCl): the channels closed at large hyperpolarizing potentials. Slower fluctuations of the same amplitude, due to the blocking and unblocking of individual channels, were seen after addition of STX. Block of the sodium channels by STX was voltage-dependent, with hyperpolarizing potentials favouring block. The voltage-dependent gating, ionic selectivity and neurotoxin sensitivity suggest that these are the channels that normally underlie the sodium conductance change during the nerve impulse.
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Krueger, B., Worley, J. & French, R. Single sodium channels from rat brain incorporated into planar lipid bilayer membranes. Nature 303, 172–175 (1983). https://doi.org/10.1038/303172a0
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