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J Gen Physiol. 2003 Apr;121(4):325-47.

Ion fluxes in giant excised cardiac membrane patches detected and quantified with ion-selective microelectrodes.

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Department of Physiology, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, 5323 Harry Hines Boulevard, Dallas, TX 75390-9040, USA.


We have used ion-selective electrodes (ISEs) to quantify ion fluxes across giant membrane patches by measuring and simulating ion gradients on both membrane sides. Experimental conditions are selected with low concentrations of the ions detected on the membrane side being monitored. For detection from the cytoplasmic (bath) side, the patch pipette is oscillated laterally in front of an ISE. For detection on the extracellular (pipette) side, ISEs are fabricated from flexible quartz capillary tubing (tip diameters, 2-3 microns), and an ISE is positioned carefully within the patch pipette with the tip at a controlled distance from the mouth of the patch pipette. Transport activity is then manipulated by solution changes on the cytoplasmic side. Ion fluxes can be quantified by simulating the ion gradients with appropriate diffusion models. For extracellular (intrapatch pipette) recordings, ion diffusion coefficients can be determined from the time courses of concentration changes. The sensitivity and utility of the methods are demonstrated with cardiac membrane patches by measuring (a) potassium fluxes via ion channels, valinomycin, and Na/K pumps; (b) calcium fluxes mediated by Na/Ca exchangers; (c) sodium fluxes mediated by gramicidin and Na/K pumps; and (d) proton fluxes mediated by an unknown electrogenic mechanism. The potassium flux-to-current ratio for the Na/K pump is approximately twice that determined for potassium channels and valinomycin, as expected for a 3Na/2K pump stoichiometery (i.e., 2K/charge moved). For valinomycin-mediated potassium currents and gramicidin-mediated sodium currents, the ion fluxes calculated from diffusion models are typically 10-15% smaller than expected from the membrane currents. As presently implemented, the ISE methods allow reliable detection of calcium and proton fluxes equivalent to monovalent cation currents <1 pA in magnitude, and they allow detection of sodium and potassium fluxes equivalent to <5 pA currents. The capability to monitor ion fluxes, independent of membrane currents, should facilitate studies of both electrogenic and electroneutral ion-coupled transporters in giant patches.

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