The first response of brown adipocytes to adrenergic stimulation is a rapid depolarizing conductance increase mediated by alpha-adrenergic receptors. We used patch recording techniques on cultured brown fat cells from neonatal rats to characterize this conductance. Measurements in perforated patch clamped cells showed that fast depolarizing responses were frequent in cells maintained in culture for 1 d or less, but were seen less often in cells cultured for longer periods. Ion substitution showed that the depolarization was due to a selective increase in membrane chloride permeability. The reversal potential for the depolarizing current in perforated patch clamped cells indicated that intracellular chloride concentrations were significantly higher than expected if chloride were passively distributed. The chloride conductance could be activated by increases in intracellular calcium, either by exposing intact cells to the ionophore A23187 or by using pipette solutions with free calcium levels of 0.2-1.0 microM in whole-cell configuration. The chloride conductance did not increase monotonically with increases in intracellular calcium, and going whole cell with pipette-free calcium concentrations > or = 10 microM rapidly inactivated the current. The chloride currents ran down in whole-cell recordings using intracellular solutions of various compositions, and were absent in excised patches. These findings imply that cytoplasmic factors in addition to intracellular calcium are involved in regulation of the chloride conductance. The chloride currents could be blocked by niflumic acid or flufenamic acid with IC50s of 3 and 7 microM, or by higher concentrations of SITS (IC50 = 170 microM), DIDS (IC50 = 50 microM), or 9-anthracene carboxylic acid (IC50 = 80 microM). The chloride conductance activated in whole cell by intracellular calcium had the permeability sequence PNOS > PI > PBr > PCl > Paspartate, measured from either reversal potentials or conductances. Instantaneous current-voltage relations for the calcium-activated chloride currents were linear in symmetric chloride solutions. Much of the current was time and voltage independent and active at all membrane potentials between -100 and +100 mV, but an additional component of variable amplitude showed time-dependent activation with depolarization. Volume-sensitive chloride currents were also present in brown fat cells, but differed from the calcium-activated currents in that they responded to cell swelling, required intracellular ATP in whole-cell recordings, showed no sensitivity to intracellular or extracellular calcium levels, and were relatively resistant to block by niflumic and flufenamic acids. (ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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