The time course of carbachol-induced desensitization onset and recovery of sensitivity after desenitization have been compared at the frog neuromuscular junction. The activation-desensitization sequence was determined from input conductance measurements using potassium-depolarized muscle preparations. Both desensitization onset and recovery from desensitization could be adequately described by single time constant expressions, with tauonset being considerably shorter than taurecovery. In nine experiments, tauonset was 13+/-1.3 s and taurecovery was 424+/-51 s with 1 mM carbachol. Elevating the external calcium or carbachol concentration accelerated desensitization onset without changing the recovery of sensitivity after equilibrium desensitization. Desensitization onset was accelerated by a prior activation-desensitization sequence to an extent determined by the recovery interval that followed the initial carbachol application. The time course of return of tauonset was closely parallel to, but slower than the time course of recovery of sensitivity. These results are consistent with a cyclic model in which intracellular calcium is a factor controlling the rate of development of desensitization.

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