The patch-clamp technique was used to study the properties and the density of conducting K and Na channels in the apical membrane of rat cortical collecting tubule. The predominant K channel observed in cell-attached patches (SK channels) had an outward single-channel conductance (with LiCl in the pipette) of 10 pS. The inward conductance (with KCl in the pipette) was 42 pS. The channel had a high open probability that increased with depolarization. Kinetic analysis indicated the presence of a single open state and two closed states. Increasing K intake by maintaining animals on a high K diet for 12-16 d increased the number of SK channels per patch by threefold (0.7-2.0/patch) over control levels. In addition, conducting Na-selective channels, which were not observed in control animals, were seen at low density (0.5/patch). These channels had properties similar to those observed when the animals were on a low Na diet, except that the mean open probability (0.84) was higher. In other experiments, the whole-cell patch clamp technique was used to measure Na channel activity (as amiloride-sensitive current, INa) and Na pump activity (as ouabain-sensitive current, Ipump). In animals on a high K diet, INa was greater than in controls but much less than in rats on a low Na diet. Ipump was greater after K loading than in controls or Na-depleted animals. These K diet-dependent effects were not accompanied by a significant increase in plasma aldosterone concentrations. To further investigate the relationship between K channel activity and mineralocorticoids, rats were maintained on a low Na diet to increase endogenous aldosterone secretion. Under these conditions, no increase in SK channel density was observed, although there was a large increase in the number of Na channels (to 2.7/patch). Aldosterone was also administered exogenously through osmotic minipumps. As with the low Na diet, there was no change in the density of conducting SK channels, although Na channel activity was induced. These results suggest that SK channels, Na channels and Na/K pumps are regulated during changes in K intake by factors other than aldosterone.

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