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J Neurosci. 2011 Sep 21;31(38):13546-61. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2781-11.2011.

Nerve terminal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors initiate quantal GABA release from perisomatic interneurons by activating axonal T-type (Cav3) Ca²⁺ channels and Ca²⁺ release from stores.

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Department of Physiology, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland 21201, USA.


Release of conventional neurotransmitters is mainly controlled by calcium (Ca²⁺) influx via high-voltage-activated (HVA), Ca(v)2, channels ("N-, P/Q-, or R-types") that are opened by action potentials. Regulation of transmission by subthreshold depolarizations does occur, but there is little evidence that low-voltage-activated, Ca(v)3 ("T-type"), channels take part. GABA release from cortical perisomatic-targeting interneurons affects numerous physiological processes, and yet its underlying control mechanisms are not fully understood. We investigated whether T-type Ca²⁺ channels are involved in regulating GABA transmission from these cells in rat hippocampal CA1 using a combination of whole-cell voltage-clamp, multiple-fluorescence confocal microscopy, dual-immunolabeling electron-microscopy, and optogenetic methods. We show that Ca(v)3.1, T-type Ca²⁺ channels can be activated by α3β4 nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) that are located on the synaptic regions of the GABAergic perisomatic-targeting interneuronal axons, including the parvalbumin-expressing cells. Asynchronous, quantal GABA release can be triggered by Ca²⁺ influx through presynaptic T-type Ca²⁺ channels, augmented by Ca²⁺ from internal stores, following focal microiontophoretic activation of the α3β4 nAChRs. The resulting GABA release can inhibit pyramidal cells. The T-type Ca²⁺ channel-dependent mechanism is not dependent on, or accompanied by, HVA channel Ca²⁺ influx, and is insensitive to agonists of cannabinoid, μ-opioid, or GABA(B) receptors. It may therefore operate in parallel with the normal HVA-dependent processes. The results reveal new aspects of the regulation of GABA transmission and contribute to a deeper understanding of ACh and nicotine actions in CNS.

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