Uptake by Na+/Cl-dependent neurotransmitter transporters is the principal mechanism by which extracellular biogenic amine concentrations are regulated. In addition to uptake, the cloned transporter proteins also elicit ion channel-like currents, but the physiological consequences of these currents are unknown. Here, whole-cell patch clamp and perforated-patch recordings show that substrates of the dopamine transporter (DAT), such as dopamine (DA) and amphetamine, increase the firing activity of rat DA neurons in culture. We found that these substrates elicit inward currents that are Na+-dependent and blocked by cocaine. These currents are primarily comprised of anions and result in an excitatory response in DA neurons at lower DA concentrations than are required for D2 autoreceptor activation. Thus, in addition to clearing extracellular DA, our results suggest that the currents associated with DAT modulate excitability and may regulate release of neurotransmitter from midbrain DA neurons.
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