The actions of some general anaesthetics on the potassium current of the squid giant axon

J Physiol. 1986 Apr:373:311-27. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.1986.sp016049.


A number of small organic molecules with general anaesthetic action have been examined for their effects on the voltage-dependent potassium current of the squid giant axon. They include representatives of the three classes of anaesthetics examined in previous studies on the sodium current (Haydon & Urban, 1983a, b, c), i.e. the non-polar molecules n-pentane, cyclopentane and CCl4, several n-alkanols and the inhalation anaesthetics chloroform, halothane, diethyl ether and methoxyflurane. Potassium currents under voltage clamp were recorded in intact and in intracellularly perfused axons before, during and after exposure to the test substances, and the records were fitted with equations similar to those proposed by Hodgkin & Huxley (1952). Shifts in the curves of the steady-state activation against membrane potential and reductions in the potassium conductance at 60 or 70 mV membrane potential have been tabulated. On the same intact axons, all the anaesthetics with the exception of methoxyflurane reduced potassium currents less than sodium currents by about a factor of two or more. For the n-alkanols, butanol to decanol, the concentrations required to reduce the potassium current at 60 mV membrane potential by 50% were determined. For n-butanol to n-heptanol, the standard free energy per CH2 for adsorption to the site of action was estimated to be -2.91 kJ mol-1 as compared with -3.04 kJ mol-1 for reduction of the sodium current. The magnitude of the free energy decreased for alkanols with longer chain lengths. At anaesthetic concentrations that reduce the sodium current by 50%, the hydrophobic substances n-pentane and cyclopentane reduced the maximal sodium conductance, gNa, and the potassium conductance at 70 mV, gK70, equally by about a third, while the n-alkanols reduced both parameters by less than 10%. By contrast, diethyl ether and methoxyflurane were more effective in reducing the maximal potassium conductance. All of the test substances examined, except n-pentane and n-hexane, shifted the voltage dependence of the potassium steady-state activation in the depolarizing direction. A broad qualitative correlation was found between the shifts in the activation curves for sodium and potassium currents but, quantitatively, the agreement between the two shifts was poor. In n-decanol and methoxyflurane solutions, the voltage-clamped potassium currents exhibited pronounced inactivation-like behaviour. These currents can be fitted by the Hodgkin-Huxley formalism if an inactivation term analogous to the sodium current inactivation is added.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / drug effects
  • Anesthetics / pharmacology*
  • Animals
  • Axons / drug effects
  • Axons / physiology*
  • Decapodiformes
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Membrane Potentials / drug effects
  • Potassium / physiology*
  • Sodium / physiology
  • Time Factors


  • Anesthetics
  • Sodium
  • Potassium