The effects of phloretin on membrane ionic conductances have been studied in the giant axon of the squid, Loligo pealei. Phloretin reversibly suppresses the potassium and sodium conductances and modifies their dependence on membrane potential (Em). Its effects on the potassium conductance (GK) are much greater than on the sodium conductance; no effects on sodium inactivation are observed. Internal perfusion of phloretin produces both greater shifts in GK(Em) and greater reductions maximum GK than does external perfusion; the effect of simultaneous internal and external perfusion is little greater than that of internal perfusion alone. Lowering the internal pH, which favors the presence of the neutral species of weakly acidic phloretin (pKa 7.4), potentiates the actions of internally perfused phloretin. Other organic cations with dipole moments similar to phloretin's have little effect on either potassium or sodium conductances in squid axons. These results can be explained by either of two mechanisms; on postulates a phloretin "receptor" near the voltage sensor component of the potassium channel which is accessible to drug molecules applied at either the outer or inner membrane surface and is much more sensitive to the neutral than the negatively charged form of the drug. The other mechanism proposes that neutral phloretin molecules are dispersed in an ordered array in the membrane interior, producing a diffuse dipole field which modifies potassium channel gating. Different experimental results support these two mechanisms, and neither hypothesis can be disproven.
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