Ionic channels bathed in mixed solutions of two permeant electrolytes often conduct less current than channels bathed in pure solutions of either. For many years, this anomalous mole fraction effect (AMFE) has been thought to occur only in single-file pores containing two or more ions at a time. Most thinking about channels incorporates this view. We show here that the AMFE arises naturally, as an electrostatic consequence of localized ion specific binding, if the average current through a channel is described by a theory (Poisson-Nemst-Planck, PNP) that computes the average electric field from the average concentration of charges in and near the channel. The theory contains only those ion-ion interactions mediated by the mean field, and it does not enforce single filing. The AMFE is predicted by PNP over a wide range of mean concentrations of ions in the channel; for example, it is predicted when (on the average) less, or much less, than one ion is found in the channel's pore. In this treatment, the AMFE arises, in large measure, from a depletion layer produced near a region of ion-specific binding. The small excess concentration of ions in the binding region repels all nearby ions of like charge, thereby creating a depletion layer. The overall conductance of the channel arises in effect from resistors in series, one from the binding region, one from the depletion zone, and one from the unbinding region. The highest value resistor (which occurs in the depletion zone) limits the overall series conductance. Here the AMFE is not the result of single filing or multiple occupancy, and so previous views of permeation need to be revised: the presence of an AMFE does not imply that ions permeate single file through a multiply occupied pore.
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