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Eur J Neurosci. 1997 Dec;9(12):2596-604.

HERG- and IRK-like inward rectifier currents are sequentially expressed during neuronal development of neural crest cells and their derivatives.

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Institute of General Pathology, University of Florence, Italy.


Quail neural crest cells were cultured in a differentiative medium to study the inward K+ channel profile in neuronal precursors at various stages of maturation. Between 12 and 24 h of culture, neural crest-derived neurons displayed, in addition to the previously described outward depolarization-activated K+ currents, an inward current enhanced in high K+ medium. A biophysical and pharmacological analysis led us to conclude that this inward K+ current is identical to that previously demonstrated in mouse and human neuroblastoma cell lines (I[IR]). This current (quail I[IR] or ql[IR]), which is active at membrane potentials positive to -35 mV, was blocked by Cs+ and by class III antiarrhythmic drugs, thus resembling the K+ current encoded by the human ether-a-gò-gò-related gene (HERG). At later stages of incubation (>48 h), neural crest-derived neurons underwent morphological and biochemical differentiation and expressed fast Na+ currents. At this stage the cells lost qI[IR], displaying instead a classical inward rectifier K+ (IRK) current (quail I[IRK] = qI[IRK]). This substitution was reflected in the resting potential (VREST), which became hyperpolarized by >20 mV compared with the 24 h cells. Neurons were also harvested from peripheral ganglia and other derivatives originating from the migration of neural crest cells, viz. ciliary ganglia, dorsal root ganglia, adrenal medulla and sympathetic chain ganglia. After brief culture following harvesting from young embryos, ganglionic neurons always expressed qI(IR). On the other hand, when ganglia were explanted from older embryos (7-12 days), briefly cultured neurons displayed the IRK-like current. Again, in all the above derivatives the qI(IR) substitution by qI(IRK) was accompanied by a 20 mV hyperpolarization of VREST. Together, these data indicate that the VREST of normal neuronal precursors is sequentially regulated by HERG- and IRK-like currents, suggesting that HERG-like channels mark an immature and transient stage of neuronal differentiation, probably the same stage frozen in neuroblastomas by neoplastic transformation.

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