Excitatory postsynaptic currents (EPSCs) have been studied in voltage-clamped bullfrog sympathetic ganglion B cells. The EPSC was small, rose to a peak within 1-3 ms, and then decayed exponentially over most of its time-course. For 36 cells at --50 mV (21-23 degrees C), peak EPSC size was --6.5 +/- 3.5 nA (mean +/- SD), and the mean decay time constant tau was 5.3 +/- 0.9 ms. tau showed a small negative voltage dependence, which appeared independent of temperature, over the range --90 to --30 mV; the coefficient of voltage dependence was --0.0039 +/-0.0014 mV-1 (n = 29). The peak current-voltage relationship was linear between --120 and --30 mV but often deviated from linearity at more positive potentials. The reversal potential determined by interpolation was approximately --5 mV. EPSC decay tau had a Q10 = 3. The commonly used cholinesterase inhibitors, neostigmine and physostigmine, exhibited complex actions at the ganglia. Neostigmine (1 X 10(-5)M) produced a time-dependent slowing of EPSC decay without consistent change in EPSC size. In addition, the decay phase often deviated from a single exponential function, although it retained its negative voltage dependence. With 1 x 10(-6) M physostigmine, EPSC decay was slowed by the decay phase remained exponential. At higher concentrations of physostigmine, EPSC decay was markedly prolonged and was composed of at least two decay components. High concentrations of atropine (10(-5) to 10(-4) M) produced complex alterations in EPSC decay, creating two or more exponential components; one decay component was faster and the other was slower than that observed in untreated cells. These results suggest that the time-course of ganglionic EPSC decay is primarily determined by the kinetics of the receptor-channel complex rather than hydrolysis or diffusion of transmitter away from the postsynaptic receptors.

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