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J Physiol. 2011 May 15;589(Pt 10):2497-514. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2011.206631. Epub 2011 Mar 21.

Calcium-activated non-selective cation currents are involved in generation of tonic and bursting activity in dopamine neurons of the substantia nigra pars compacta.

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Committee on Neurobiology, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL 60637, USA.


Nigral dopamine neurons are transiently activated by high frequency glutamatergic inputs relaying reward-predicting sensory information. The tonic firing pattern of dopamine cells responds to these inputs with a transient burst of spikes that requires NMDA receptors. Here, we show that NMDA receptor activation further excites the cell by recruiting a calcium-activated non-selective cation current (ICAN) capable of generating a plateau potential. Burst firing in vitro is eliminated after blockade of ICAN with flufenamic acid, 9-phenanthrol, or intracellular BAPTA. ICAN is likely to be mediated by a transient receptor potential (TRP) channel, and RT-PCR was used to confirm expression of TRPM2 and TRPM4mRNA in substantia nigra pars compacta.We propose that ICAN is selectively activated during burst firing to boost NMDA currents and allow plateau potentials. This boost mechanism may render DA cells vulnerable to excitotoxicity.

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