Voltage-dependent membrane currents were investigated in enzymatically dissociated photoreceptors of Lima scabra using the whole-cell clamp technique. Depolarizing steps to voltages more positive than -10 mV elicit a transient inward current followed by a delayed, sustained outward current. The outward current is insensitive to replacement of a large fraction of extracellular Cl- with the impermeant anion glucuronate. Superfusion with tetraethylammonium and 4-aminopyridine reversibly abolishes the outward current, and internal perfusion with cesium also suppresses it, indicating that it is mediated by potassium channels. Isolation of the inward current reveals a fast activation kinetics, the peak amplitude occurring as early as 4-5 ms after stimulus onset, and a relatively rapid, though incomplete inactivation. Within the range of voltages examined, spanning up to +90 mV, reversal was not observed. The inward current is not sensitive to tetrodotoxin at concentrations up to 10 microM, and survives replacement of extracellular Na with tetramethylammonium. On the other hand, it is completely eliminated by calcium removal from the perfusing solution, and it is partially blocked by submillimolar concentrations of cadmium, suggesting that it is entirely due to voltage-dependent calcium channels. Analysis of the kinetics and voltage dependence of the isolated calcium current indicates the presence of two components, possibly reflecting the existence of separate populations of channels. Barium and strontium can pass through these channels, though less easily than calcium. Both the activation and the inactivation become significantly more sluggish when these ions serve as the charge carrier. A large fraction of the outward current is activated by preceding calcium influx. Suppression of this calcium-dependent potassium current shows a small residual component resembling the delayed rectifier. In addition, a transient outward current sensitive to 4-aminopyridine (Ia) could also be identified. The relevance of such conductance mechanisms in the generation of the light response in Lima photoreceptors is discussed.

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