Calcium channels play dual roles in cell signaling by promoting membrane depolarization and allowing entry of calcium ions. Patch-clamp recordings of calcium and calcium-dependent currents from the soma of Xenopus spinal neurons indicate key functional differences from those of presynaptic terminals. Both terminals and somas exhibit prominent high-voltage-activated (HVA) calcium current, but only the soma expresses additional low-voltage-activated (LVA) T-type current. Further differences are reflected in the HVA current; N- and R-type channels are predominant in the soma while the terminal calcium current is composed principally of N type with smaller contribution by L- and R-type channels. Potential physiological significance for these different distributions of channel types may lie in the differential channel kinetics. Activation of somatic HVA calcium current occurs more slowly than HVA currents in terminals. Additionally, somatic LVA calcium current activates and deactivates much more slowly than any HVA calcium current. Fast-activating and -deactivating calcium current may be critical to processing the rapid exocytotic response in terminals, whereas slow LVA and HVA calcium currents may play a central role in shaping the somatic firing pattern. In support of different kinetic behavior between these two compartments, we find that somatic calcium current activates a prominent slow chloride current not observed in terminal recordings. This current activates in response to calcium entering through either LVA or HVA channels and likely functions as a modulator of excitability or synaptic input. The restriction of this channel type to the soma lends further support to the idea that differential expression of fast and slow channel types in these neurons is dictated by differences in signaling requirements for somatic and terminal compartments.
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