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Biophys J. 1989 Oct;56(4):795-806.

Curare binding and the curare-induced subconductance state of the acetylcholine receptor channel.

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Department of Physiology, University of California, Los Angeles 90024-1601.


The curare-induced subconductance state of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (AChR) of mouse skeletal muscle was examined using the patch-clamp technique. Two mechanisms for the generation of subconductance states were considered. One of these mechanisms entails allosteric induction of a distinct channel conformation through the binding of curare to the agonist binding site. The other mechanism entails the binding of curare to a different site on the protein. Occupation of this site would then limit the flow of ions through the channel. The voltage dependence and concentration dependence of subconductance state kinetics are consistent with curare binding to a site within the channel. The first order rate constant for binding is 1.2 X 10(6) M-1s-1 at 0 mV, and increases e-fold per 118 mV of membrane hyperpolarization. The rate of curare dissociation from this site is 1.9 X 10(2)s-1 at 0 mV, and decreases e-fold per 95 mV hyperpolarization. The equilibrium constant is 1.4 X 10(-4) M at 0 mV, and decreases e-fold per 55 mV hyperpolarization. This voltage dependence suggests that the fraction of the transmembrane potential traversed by curare in binding to this site is 0.46 or 0.23, depending on whether one assumes that one or both charges of curare sense the electric field. Successive reduction and alkylation of the AChR agonist binding sites with dithiothreitol (DTT) and N-ethyl maleimide (NEM), a treatment which results in the loss of responsiveness of the AChR to agonists, produced no change in curare-induced subconductance events, despite the fact that after this treatment most of the channel openings occurred spontaneously. Mixtures of high concentrations of carbamylcholine (CCh) with a low concentration of curare, which produce channel openings gated predominantly by CCH, resulted in subconductance state kinetics similar to those seen in curare alone at the same concentration. Thus displacement by CCh of curare from the agonist binding sites does not prevent curare from inducing subconductances. The results presented here support the hypothesis that curare induces subconductance states by binding to a site on the receptor other than the agonist binding sites, possibly within the channel pore. It is the occupation of this site by curare that limits the flow of ions through an otherwise fully opened channel.

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