In exocrine acinar cells (pancreas, salivary gland, lacrimal gland) stimulation with hormones or neurotransmitters evokes K+ loss due to opening of K+ channels in the plasma membrane whereas in the insulin-secreting pancreatic beta-cells, stimulation with glucose or glyceraldehyde evokes membrane depolarization due to closure of K+ channels. By measuring directly the small K+ currents flowing through single channels, in electrically isolated patches of plasma membrane of intact cells, it can be shown that stimulants having no direct access to the small membrane area from which recording is made can influence the pattern of channel opening. In the case of hormonal activation of exocrine acinar cells, Ca2+ is the final messenger and the K+-selective channel involved in the response has a high unit conductance, is very voltage sensitive and can be blocked by external tetraethylammonium. In the case of the insulin-secreting cells, the K+ channel which is inhibited by metabolic stimulation is a voltage-insensitive, inward rectifier which can be blocked by quinine. In experiments on permeabilized cells or cell-free excised, inside-out, membrane patches it can be shown that ATP evokes channel closure and ATP produced by glycolysis may therefore function as the internal messenger.
In salmonid fishes, rainbow trout and masu salmon, and the plecoglossid fish, ayu, seminal plasma had an osmolality around 300 mosmol kg-1 isotonic to the blood plasma, and contained a higher concentration of potassium than the blood plasma. Spermatozoa of salmonid fishes were motile when semen was diluted 1:100 with solutions of sodium chloride or mannitol, over the osmotic range of 0–300 mosmol kg-1. They were immotile in sodium chloride solution containing several mM potassium. This indicates that osmolality is not an essential determinant of sperm motility in the Salmonidae, and that sperm motility in these species is suppressed by the seminal potassium in the sperm duct, and initiated by a decrease in potassium concentration surrounding spawned spermatozoa when they are released into fresh water.
Spermatozoa of freshwater Cyprinidae (goldfish, carp, crucian carp and dace) remained immotile when the semen was diluted in solutions of NaCl, KCl, mannitol or glucose iso-osmolar to the seminal plasma (300 mosmol kg-1). The spermatozoa became motile in media containing these solutes if the osmolality was lower than that of the seminal plasma, suggesting that motility is suppressed by the osmolality of the seminal plasma in the sperm duct and initiated by a decrease of osmolality upon spawning into fresh water. Potassium was a major component of seminal plasma, having a concentration 20–30 times higher than that in the blood plasma in goldfish and carp. Sodium concentration in seminal plasma was lower than that in blood plasma. Potassium increased viability and speed of sperm movement at a concentration below that in the seminal plasma, whereas sodium and the nonelectrolytes were less effective. Potassium released with spermatozoa at spawning may therefore stimulate motility which has already been initiated by the decrease of osmolality.