Xenopus oocytes express mechanosensitive (MSxo) channels that can be studied in excised patches of membrane with the patch-clamp technique. This study examines the steady-state kinetic gating properties of MSxo channels using detailed single-channel analysis. The open and closed one-dimensional dwell-time distributions were described by the sums of 2-3 open and 5-7 closed exponential components, respectively, indicating that the channels enter at least 2-3 open and 5-7 closed kinetic states during gating. Dependency plots revealed that the durations of adjacent open and closed intervals were correlated, indicating two or more gateway states in the gating mechanism for MS channels. Maximum likelihood fitting of two-dimensional dwell-time distributions to both generic and specific models was used to examine gating mechanism and rank models. A kinetic scheme with five closed and five open states, in which each closed state could make a direct transition to an open state (two-tiered model) could account for the major features of the single-channel data. Two-tiered models that allowed direct transitions to subconductance open states in addition to the fully open state were also consistent with multiple gateway states. Thus, the gating mechanism of MSxo channels differs from the sequential (linear) gating mechanisms considered for MS channels in bacteria, chick skeletal muscle, and Necturus proximal tubule.
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