Saturation of conductance in single ion channels: The blocking effect of the near reaction field

Boaz Nadler, Zeev Schuss, Uwe Hollerbach, R. S. Eisenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The ionic current flowing through a protein channel in the membrane of a biological cell depends on the concentration of the permeant ion, as well as on many other variables. As the concentration increases, the rate of arrival of bath ions to the channel’s entrance increases, and typically so does the net current. This concentration dependence is part of traditional diffusion and rate models that predict Michaelis-Menten current-concentration relations for a single ion channel. Such models, however, neglect other effects of bath concentrations on the net current. The net current depends not only on the entrance rate of ions into the channel, but also on forces acting on ions inside the channel. These forces, in turn, depend not only on the applied potential and charge distribution of the channel, but also on the long-range Coulombic interactions with the surrounding bath ions. In this paper, we study the effects of bath concentrations on the average force on an ion in a single ion channel. We show that the force of the reaction field on a discrete ion inside a channel embedded in an uncharged lipid membrane contains a blocking (shielding) term that is proportional to the square root of the ionic bath concentration. We then show that different blocking strengths yield different behavior of the current-concentration and conductance-concentration curves. Our theory shows that at low concentrations, when the blocking force is weak, conductance grows linearly with concentration, as in traditional models, e.g., Michaelis-Menten formulations. As the concentration increases to a range of moderate shielding, conductance grows as the square root of concentration, whereas at high concentrations, with high shielding, conductance may actually decrease with increasing concentrations: the conductance-concentration curve can invert. Therefore, electrostatic interactions between bath ions and the single ion inside the channel can explain the different regimes of conductance-concentration relations observed in experiments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11
Number of pages1
JournalPhysical Review E - Statistical Physics, Plasmas, Fluids, and Related Interdisciplinary Topics
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2004


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