, Volume 428, Issue 5-6, pp 499-507

Sensory neuron N-type calcium currents are inhibited by both voltage-dependent and -independent mechanisms

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The voltage dependence of γ-aminobutyric-acid- and norepinephrine-induced inhibition of N-type calcium current in cultured embryonic chick dorsal-root ganglion neurons was studied with whole-cell voltage-clamp recording. The inhibitory action of the neurotransmitters was comprised of at least two distinct modulatory components, which were separable on the basis of their differential voltage dependence. The first component, which we term “kinetic slowing”, is associated with a slowing of the activation kinetics — an effect that subsides during a test pulse. The kinetic-slowing component is largely reversed at depolarized voltages (i.e., it is voltage-dependent). The second component, which we term “steady-state inhibition”, is by definition not associated with a change in activation kinetics and is present throughout the duration of a test pulse. The steady-state inhibition is not reversed at depolarized voltages (i.e., it is voltage-independent). Although the two components can be separated on the basis of their voltage dependence, they appear to be indistinguishable in their time courses for onset and recovery as well as their rates of desensitization following multiple applications of transmitter. Furthermore, neither component requires cell dialysis, as both are observed using perforated-patch as well as whole-cell recording configurations. The co-existence in nerve terminals of both voltage-dependent and -independent mechanisms to modulate calcium channel function could offer a means of differentially controlling synaptic transmission under conditions of low- and high-frequency presynaptic discharge.