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J Neurobiol. 2000 Feb 5;42(2):270-86.

Pharmacological characterization of ionic currents that regulate the pacemaker rhythm in a weakly electric fish.

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Section of Neurobiology, School of Biological Sciences, Patterson Laboratories (C0920), University of Texas, Austin, USA.


Electric organ discharge (EOD) frequency in the brown ghost knifefish (Apteronotus leptorhynchus) is sexually dimorphic, steroid-regulated, and determined by the discharge rates of neurons in the medullary pacemaker nucleus (Pn). We pharmacologically characterized ionic currents that regulate the firing frequency of Pn neurons to determine which currents contribute to spontaneous oscillations of these neurons and to identify putative targets of steroid action in regulating sexually dimorphic EOD frequency. Tetrodotoxin (TTX) initially reduced spike frequency, and then reduced spike amplitude and stopped pacemaker activity. The sodium channel blocker muO-conotoxin MrVIA also reduced spike frequency, but did not affect spike amplitude or production. Two potassium channel blockers, 4-aminopyridine (4AP) and kappaA-conotoxin SIVA, increased pacemaker firing rates by approximately 20% and then stopped pacemaker firing. Other potassium channel blockers (tetraethylammonium, cesium, alpha-dendrotoxin, and agitoxin-2) did not affect the pacemaker rhythm. The nonspecific calcium channel blockers nickel and cadmium reduced pacemaker firing rates by approximately 15-20%. Specific blockers of L-, N-, P-, and Q-type calcium currents, however, were ineffective. These results indicate that at least three ionic currents-a TTX- and muO-conotoxin MrVIA-sensitive sodium current; a 4AP- and kappaA-conotoxin SIVA-sensitive potassium current; and a T- or R-type calcium current-contribute to the pacemaker rhythm. The pharmacological profiles of these currents are similar to those of currents that are known to regulate firing rates in other spontaneously oscillating neural circuits.

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