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Exp Brain Res. 1989;74(2):411-6.

Electrophysiological evidence for the dendritic localization of a calcium conductance in guinea-pig substantia nigra neurones in vitro.

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University Department of Pharmacology, Oxford, U.K.


Within the substantia nigra, anatomical, neurochemical and pharmacological findings strongly suggest that transmitter and protein are secreted from the dendrites of nigrostriatal neurones. This phenomenon may underlie a non classical modulatory cellular mechanism. Two conductances are generated in nigrostriatal neurones independent of somatic action potentials, that might mediate this modulation. However, these conductances have never been directly nor precisely located specifically within the dendrites. The aim of this study was to record the membrane properties of substantia nigra zona compacta neurones in response to selective sectioning of the population of long 'apical' dendrites i.e. the removal of the zona reticulata. Intracellular recordings from substantia nigra zona compacta neurones were made from mesencephalic slices of the guinea-pig brain maintained in vitro. In cells without the apical dendrites, the membrane potential, input resistance and mean firing frequency was not significantly different from the control neurones. However, removal of the substantia nigra zona reticulata virtually abolished one conductance in particular. This conductance, seen in control neurones, is a long lasting slow depolarization which is resistant to tetrodotoxin blockade of sodium channels: rather, it is mediated by the entry of calcium ions and is optimally deinactivated at a hyperpolarised membrane potential. Hence, this study strongly suggests that this conductance is generated exclusively in the 'apical' dendrites. It has been postulated that this long lasting calcium conductance is central to the modulation of nigrostriatal neuronal excitability. Thus, the 'apical' dendrites could play a specific and active role in the functioning of nigrostriatal neurones.

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