The cause of the anomalous mole fraction effect (AMFE) in calcium-selective ion channels is studied. An AMFE occurs when the conductance through a channel is lower in a mixture of salts than in the pure salts at the same concentration. The textbook interpretation of the AMFE is that multiple ions move through the pore in coordinated, single-file motion. Instead of this, we find that at its most basic level an AMFE reflects a channel's preferential binding selectivity for one ion species over another. The AMFE is explained by considering the charged and uncharged regions of the pore as electrical resistors in series: the AMFE is produced by these regions of high and low ion concentration changing differently with mole fraction due to the preferential ion selectivity. This is demonstrated with simulations of a model L-type calcium channel and a mathematical analysis of a simplistic point-charge model. The particle simulations reproduce the experimental data of two L-type channel AMFEs. Conditions under which an AMFE may be found experimentally are discussed. The resistors-in-series model provides a fundamentally different explanation of the AMFE than the traditional theory and does not require single filing, multiple occupancy, or momentum-correlated ion motion.
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