The light-activated conductance of Limulus ventral photoreceptors was studied using the patch-clamp technique. Channels (40 pS) were observed whose probability of opening was greatly increased by light. In some cells the latency of channel activation was nearly the same as that of the macroscopic response, while in other cells the channel latency was much greater. Like the macroscopic conductance, channel activity was reduced by light adaptation but enhanced by the intracellular injection of the calcium chelator EGTA. The latter observation indicates that channel activation was not a secondary result of the light-induced rise in intracellular calcium. A two-microelectrode voltage-clamp method was used to measure the voltage dependence of the light-activated macroscopic conductance. It was found that this conductance is constant over a wide voltage range more negative than zero, but it increases markedly at positive voltages. The single channel currents measured over this same voltage range show that the single channel conductance is independent of voltage, but that channel gating properties are dependent on voltage. Both the mean channel open time and the opening rate increase at positive voltages. These properties change in a manner consistent with the voltage dependence of the macroscopic conductance. The broad range of similarities between the macroscopic and single channel currents supports the conclusion that the 40-pS channel that we have observed is the principal channel underlying the response to light in these photoreceptors.

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