Regulation of the Na,K pump in intact cells is strongly associated with the level of intracellular Na+. Experiments were carried out on intact, isolated sheep Purkinje strands at 37 degrees C. Membrane potential (Vm) was measured by an open-tipped glass electrode and intracellular Na+ activity (aNai) was calculated from the voltage difference between an Na+-selective microelectrode (ETH 227) and Vm. In some experiments, intracellular potassium (aiK) or chloride (aCli) was measured by a third separate microelectrode. Strands were loaded by Na,K pump inhibition produced by K+ removal and by increasing Na+ leak by removing Mg++ and lowering free Ca++ to 10(-8) M. Equilibrium with outside levels of Na+ was reached within 30-60 min. During sequential addition of 6 mM Mg++ and reduction of Na+ to 2.4 mM, the cells maintained a stable aNai ranging between 25 and 90 mM and Vm was -30.8 +/- 2.2 mV. The Na,K pump was reactivated with 30 mM Rb+ or K+. Vm increased over 50-60 s to -77.4 +/- 5.9 mV with Rb+ activation and to -66.0 +/- 7.7 mV with K+ activation. aiNa decreased in both cases to 0.5 +/- 0.2 mM in 5-15 min. The maximum rate of aiNa decline (maximum delta aNai/delta t) was the same with K+ and Rb+ at concentrations greater than 20 mM. The response was abolished by 10(-5) M acetylstrophantidin. Maximum delta aNai/delta t was independent of outside Na+, while aKi was negatively correlated with aNai (aKi = 88.4 - 0.86.aNai). aCli decreased by at most 3 mM during reactivation, which indicates that volume changes did not seriously affect aNai. This model provided a functional isolation of the Na,K pump, so that the relation between the pump rate (delta aNai/delta t) and aiNa could be examined. A Hill plot allowed calculation of Vmax ranging from 5.5 to 27 mM/min, which on average is equal to 25 0.5 was 10.5 +/- 0.6 mM (the aNai that gives delta aNai/delta t = Vmax/2) and n equaled 1.94 +/- 0.13 (the Hill coefficient). These values were not different with K+ or Rb+ as an external activator. The number of ouabain-binding sites equaled 400 pmol.g-1, giving a maximum Na+ turnover of 300 s-1. The Na,K pump in intact Purkinje strands exhibited typical sigmoidal saturation kinetics with regard to aNai as described by the equation upsilon/Vmax = aNai(1.94)/(95.2 + aNai(1.94)). The maximum sensitivity of the Na,K pump to aiNa occurred at approximately 6 mM.

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