Careful examination of effects of solvent substitution on excitable membranes offers the theoretical possibility of identifying those aspects of the gating and translocation processes which are associated with significant changes in solvent order. Such information can then be used to develop or modify moire detailed models. We have examined the effects of heavy water substitution in Cs+-and K+-dialyzed Myxicola giant axons. At temperatures of 4-6 degrees C, the rates of Na+, K+, and Na+ inactivation during a maintained depolarization were all showed by approximately 50% in the presence of D2O. In contrast, the effects of solvent substitution on the time-course of prepulse inactivation and reactivation were much larger, with slowing averaging 160%. Studies at higher temperatures yielded Q10's for Na+ activation and K+ activation which were essentially comparable (0.72) and slightly but significantly smaller than that for inactivation during a maintained depolarization (0.84). In contrast, the Q10 for the D2O effect on prepulse inactivation was approximately 0.48. Heavy water substitution decrease Gk to a significantly greater extent than G(Na), while the decrease in the conductance of the Na+ channel caused by D2O was independent of whether the current-carrying species was Na+ or Li+. Sodium channel selectivity to the alkali metal cations and NH4+ was not changed by D2O substitution
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