The spatial distribution of ion channels over the surface of a neuron is an important determinant of its excitable properties. We introduce two measures of channel clustering for use in patch-clamp experiments: a normalized chi-squared statistic (eta) and the number of zero-channel patches in a data set (Z). These statistics were calculated for data sets describing the distribution of A-type potassium channels on neurons of the nudibranch Doriopsilla and measurements of Ca-dependent outward current channels on bullfrog hair cells, as well as simulated channel distributions. When channels are clustered, eta is approximately equal to the amount of current in a cluster. The analysis shows that somatic A-channels in the nudibranch are distributed in clusters of approximately 50 channels each. The clusters are < 2 microns wide and are separated, on average, by 3.2 microns. Outward current channels on hair cells occur in clusters of approximately 27 channels each, in agreement with the original analysis. Channel clustering may reflect properties of the insertion or regulation of channels in the membrane.
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