Ca channel currents in primary cultured pars intermedia cells were studied using whole-cell recording with patch pipettes. Experiments were carried out at 18-21 degrees C in cells internally dialyzed with K-free, EGTA-containing solutions and in the presence of 10 mM Ca or 10 mM Ba in the external solution. Ca and Ba currents depended on the activity of two main populations of channels, SD and FD. With Ca as the charge carrier, these two populations differed in their closing time constants at -80 mV (SD, 1.8 ms; FD, 110 microseconds), apparent activation levels (SD, -40 mV; FD, -5 mV), half-maximal activation levels (SD, +5 to +10 mV; FD, +20 to +25 mV), half-times of activation at +20 mV (SD, 2.5-3.5 ms; FD, 1.0-1.3 ms), and time courses of inactivation (SD, fast; FD, slow). Functional FD channels were almost completely lost within 20-25 min of breaking into a cell, whereas SD channels retained most of their functional activity. In addition, the conductance-voltage curve for FD channels shifted approximately 15 mV toward more negative membrane potentials within 11-14 min under whole-cell recording. At that time, 60-70% of the FD channel maximum conductance was lost. However, the conductance-voltage curve for SD channels shifted less than 5 mV within 25 min. The addition of 3 mM MgATP and 40 microM GTP to the internal solution slowed down the loss of FD channels and prevented the shift in their activation curve. It was also found that the amplitude of the current carried by FD channels tends to increase as a function of the age of the culture, with no obvious changes in the kinetic properties of the channels or in SD channel activity.

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