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^ Patch electrode

The patch-clamp tracings in Figure 7-18 illustrate the use of this technique to study the properties of voltage-gated Na+ channels in the plasma membrane of muscle cells. As we discuss later, these channels normally are closed in resting muscle cells and open following nervous stimulation. Patches of muscle membrane, each containing one Na+ channel, were clamped at a voltage slightly less than the resting membrane potential. Under these circumstances, transient pulses of current cross the membrane as individual Na+ channels open and then close. Each channel is either fully open or completely closed. From such tracings, it is possible to determine the time that a channel is open and the ion flux through it. For the channels measured in Figure 7-18, the flux is about 10 million Na+ ions per channel per second, a typical value for ion channels. Replacement of the NaCl within the patch pipette (corresponding to the outside of the cell) with KCl or choline chloride abolishes current through the channels, confirming that they conduct only Na+ ions.

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