The permeability of gap junctions to tetraethylammonium ions was measured in isolated pairs of blastomeres from Rana pipiens L. and compared to the junctional conductance. In this system, the junctional conductance is voltage-dependent and decreases with moderate transjunctional voltage of either sign. The permeability to tetraethylammonium ions was determined by injecting one cell of a pair with tetraethylammonium and monitoring its changing concentration in the prejunctional and postjunctional cells with ion-selective electrodes. Junctional conductance was determined by current-clamp and voltage-clamp techniques. For different cell pairs in which the transjunctional voltage was small and the junctional conductance at its maximum value, the permeability to tetraethylammonium ions was proportional to the junctional conductance. In individual cell pairs, a reduction in the junctional conductance induced by voltage was accompanied by a proportional reduction in the permeability of the gap junction over a wide range. The diameter of the tetraethylammonium ion (8.0 to 8.5 Å, unhydrated) is larger than that of the potassium ion (4.6 Å, hydrated), the predominant current-carrying species. The proportionality between the permeability to tetraethylammonium ions and the junctional conductance, measured here with exceptionally fine time resolution, indicates that a common gap junctional pathway mediates both electrical and chemical fluxes between cells, and that closure of single gap junction channels by voltage is all or none.
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