Whole-cell currents from nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (AChR) channels were studied in rat myoballs using a light-activated agonist to determine the voltage dependence of the macroscopic opening and closing rate constants. Myoballs were bathed in a solution containing a low concentration of the inactive isomer of the photoisomerizable azobenzene derivative, cis-Bis-Q. A light flash was then presented to produce a known concentration jump of agonist, trans-Bis-Q, across a wide range of membrane potentials in symmetrical solutions (NaCl or CsCl on both sides) or asymmetrical solutions (NaCl in the bath and CsCl in the pipette). At the low agonist concentration used in this study, the reciprocal of the macroscopic time constants gives an unambiguous measure of the effective closing rate. It showed an exponential decrease with membrane hyperpolarization between +20 and -100 mV, but tended to level off at more depolarized and at more hyperpolarized membrane potentials. The relative effective opening rate was derived from the steady-state conductance, the single-channel conductance, and the apparent closing rate; it decreased sharply in the depolarizing region and tended to level off and then turn up in the hyperpolarizing region. The two effective rate constants were shown to depend on the first, second, and third power of membrane potential.

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