1. Whole-cell and cell-attached patch-clamp recordings were made from enzymatically isolated type I cells from the carotid body of adult rats. Voltage-dependent K+ and Ca2+ channels were observed, but there was no detectable Na+ current. In this respect, rat carotid body cells are unlike those from rabbit, which have Na+ currents and Na+-dependent action potentials. 2. The observed Ca2+ channels had the following properties: 1) activation requires voltage steps above -20 mV; 2) little inactivation occurred with holding voltages below -40 mV; 3) one single-channel conductance of 21 pS was found with 90 or 110 mM Ba2+ in the cell-attached pipette and this was the only conductance observed; 4) open probability was increased by the dihydropyridine Ca2+ channel agonist Bay K 8644 and was decreased by the antagonist nifedipine; and 5) ω-conotoxin had little or no effect on the channels. These are properties expected of L-type Ca2+ channels. 3. To investigate whether these voltage-dependent channels would be available for opening on membrane depolarization, we measured the type I cell resting membrane potential noninvasively using unitary openings of the L- type Ca2+ channel with Bay K 8644 in the cell-attached pipette. Resting potentials ranged from -62 to -13 mV, with a mean of -32 mV in 12 cells. 4. Judging from single-channel conductance and pharmacology, the Ca2+ current is mostly, if not solely, carried by L channels. Thus it should be possible to use modulators of L channel activity to determine the role of Ca2+ channels in stimulus-secretion coupling in the rat carotid body.
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