The mechanism(s) of the decay of slow calcium current (ICa) in cut twitch skeletal muscle fibers of the frog were studied in voltage-clamp experiments using the double vaseline-gap technique. ICa decay followed a single exponential in 10 mM external Ca2+ and 20 mM internal EGTA solutions in all pulse protocols tested: single depolarizing pulses (activation protocol), two pulses (inactivation protocol), and during a long pulse preceded by a short prepulse (400 ms) to 80 mV (tail protocol). In single pulses the rate constant of ICa decay was approximately 0.75 s-1 at 0 mV and became faster with larger depolarizations. ICa had different amplitudes during the second pulses of the inactivation protocol (0 mV) and of the tail protocol (-20 to 40 mV) and had similar time constants of decay. The time constant of decay did not change significantly at each potential after replacing 10 mM Ca2+ with a Ca2+-buffered solution with malate. With 70 mM intracellular EGTA and 10 mM external Ca2+ solutions, ICa also decayed with a single-exponential curve, but it was about four times faster (approximately 3.5 s-1 at 0 mV pulse). In these solutions the rate constant showed a direct relationship with ICa amplitude at different potentials. With 70 mM EGTA, replacing the external 10 mM Ca2+ solution with the Ca2+-buffered solution caused the decay of ICa to become slower and to have the same relationship with membrane potential and ICa amplitude as in fibers with 20 mM EGTA internal solution. The mechanism of ICa decay depends on the intracellular EGTA concentration: (a) internal EGTA (both 20 and 70 mM) significantly reduces the voltage dependence of the inactivation process and (b) 70 mM EGTA dramatically increases the rate of tubular calcium depletion during the flow of ICa.

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