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J Neurophysiol. 2010 Sep;104(3):1726-35. doi: 10.1152/jn.01126.2009. Epub 2010 Jul 21.

Pharmacological modulation of the gating properties of small conductance Ca2+-activated K+ channels alters the firing pattern of dopamine neurons in vivo.

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H. Lundbeck, A/S, Department of Neurophysiology, Valby, Denmark.


Dopamine (DA) neurons are autonomous pacemakers that occasionally fire bursts of action potentials, discharge patterns thought to reflect tonic and phasic DA signaling, respectively. Pacemaker activity depends on the concerted and cyclic interplay between intrinsic ion channels with small conductance Ca(2+)-activated K(+) (SK) channels playing an important role. Bursting activity is synaptically initiated but neither the transmitters nor the specific ion conductances involved have been definitively identified. Physiological and pharmacological regulation of SK channel Ca(2+) sensitivity has recently been demonstrated and could represent a powerful means of modulating the expression of tonic/phasic signaling in DA neurons in vivo. To test this premise, we characterized the effects of intravenous administration of the novel positive and negative SK channel modulators NS309 and NS8593, respectively, on the spontaneous activity of substantia nigra pars compacta DA neurons in anesthetized C57BL/6 mice. NS309, dose-dependently decreased DA cell firing rate, increased the proportion of regular firing cells, and eventually stopped spontaneous firing. By contrast, systemic administration of the negative SK channel modulator NS8593 increased firing rate and shifted the pattern toward increased irregularity/bursting; an effect similar to local application of the pore blocking peptide apamin. The altered firing patterns resulting from inhibiting SK currents persisted independently of changes in firing rates induced by administration of DA autoreceptor agonists/antagonists. We conclude that pharmacological modulation of SK channel Ca(2+)-sensitivity represents a powerful mechanism for switching DA neuron firing activity between tonic and phasic signaling modalities in vivo.

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