The whole-cell patch-clamp technique was used to study the properties of inward ionic currents found in primary cultures of rat and mouse skeletal myotubes and in freshly dissociated fibers of the flexor digitorum brevis muscle of rats. In each of these cell types, test depolarizations from the holding potential (-80 or -90 mV) elicited three distinct inward currents: a sodium current (INa) and two calcium currents. INa was the dominant inward current: under physiological conditions, the maximum inward INa was estimated to be at least 30-fold larger than either of the calcium currents. The two calcium currents have been termed Ifast and Islow, corresponding to their relative rates of activation. Ifast was activated by test depolarizations to around -40 mV and above, peaked in 10-20 ms, and decayed to baseline in 50-100 ms. Islow was activated by depolarizations to approximately 0 mV and above, peaked in 50-150 ms, and decayed little during a 200-ms test pulse. Ifast was inactivated by brief, moderate depolarizations; for a 1-s change in holding potential, half-inactivation occurred at -55 to -45 mV and complete inactivation occurred at -40 to -30 mV. Similar changes in holding potential had no effect on Islow. Islow was, however, inactivated by brief, strong depolarizations (e.g., 0 mV for 2 s) or maintained, moderate depolarizations (e.g., -40 mV for 60 s). Substitution of barium for calcium had little effect on the magnitude or time course of either Ifast or Islow. The same substitution shifted the activation curve for Islow approximately 10 mV in the hyperpolarizing direction without affecting the activation of Ifast. At low concentrations (50 microM), cadmium preferentially blocked Islow compared with Ifast, while at high concentrations (1 mM), it blocked both Ifast and Islow completely. The dihydropyridine calcium channel antagonist (+)-PN 200-110 (1 microM) caused a nearly complete block of Islow without affecting Ifast. At a holding potential of -80 mV, the half-maximal blocking concentration (K0.5) for the block of Islow by (+)-PN 200-110 was 182 nM. At depolarized holding potentials that inactivated Islow by 35-65%, K0.5 decreased to 5.5 nM.

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