Neurons of the nucleus magnocellularis (NM) preserve the timing of auditory signals through the convergence of a variety of voltage- and ligand- gated ion channels. To understand better how these channels interact, we have characterized the kinetics, voltage sensitivity, and pharmacology of outward currents of NM neurons in brain slices. The reversal potential (E(rev)) of outward currents varied with potassium concentration as expected for currents carried by potassium. However, E(rev)) consistently more positive than the Nernst potential for potassium (E(K)). Deviation of E(rev) from the calculated E(K) most likely arose from potassium accumulation in extracellular spaces by potassium conductances active at rest and during depolarizing steps. Three outward potassium currents were studied that varied in voltage and pharmacological sensitivity. A tetraethylammonium (TEA)- sensitive, high-threshold current was activated within 1-5 ms of the onset of depolarization, with a half-maximal activation voltage (V(1/2)) of -19 mV. It was blocked partially by 4-aminopyridine (4-AP) and was the dominant ionic conductance of NM neurons. A dendrotoxin-I (DTC) and 4-AP-sensitive, low- threshold current had a V(1/2) OF -58 mV, rapid activation kinetics, and only partial inactivation, with decay time constants between 20 and 100 ms. A rapidly inactivating current was observed that was resistant to TEA and DTX and was blocked by intracellular Cs+. The transient current was inactivated almost completely at the resting potential. The onset of inactivation was fastest at potentials negative to those that caused activation. When intracellular K+ was replaced by Cs+, large inward and outward currents were obtained that corresponded respectively to the above-mentioned DTX- and TEA-sensitive currents. Outward, TEA-sensitive current was carried by Cs+, with a P(Cs)/P(K) of ~0.1. In current-clamped neurons, DTX induced repetitive firing and increased membrane time constant near rest but had little effect on action potential duration. These studies indicate that a low-threshold, DTX-sensitive current plays a key role in making NM neurons highly responsive to the onset and offset of synaptic stimuli.
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