Olfactory receptor neurons isolated from embryonic, neonatal, and adult mice were studied using the patch-clamp technique. Several distinct types of ion channels were characterized in patches of membrane from the neuronal soma and the dendritic knob of receptor neurons, including a 130-pS Ca++-activated K+ channel with voltage-dependent kinetics, an 80-pS Ca++-activated K+ channel with voltage-insensitive kinetics, a 25-pS K+ channel with properties similar to inward rectifiers, and a 40-pS K+ channel that was activated and then inactivated by rapid depolarization. Evidence of large-conductance (greater than 200 pS) Cl- channels, which were Ca++ insensitive and increasingly active at depolarizing membrane potentials, and voltage-activated Ca++ channels (16 pS) was also obtained. From K+ channel activity recorded from cell-attached patches, the intracellular [Ca++] was inferred to be below 0.1 microM, and the membrane potential was inferred to be approximately -50 mV. The receptor neurons had high input resistances, and action potentials could be elicited by picoampere amounts of depolarizing current. The receptor neurons responded to applied odorant molecules and to forskolin with increases in membrane conductance. These results provide a description of the membrane properties of olfactory receptor neurons and a basis for understanding their electrical activity and response to odorants.

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