Single- (whole-cell patch) and two-electrode voltage-clamp techniques were used to measure transient (Ifast) and sustained (Islow) calcium currents, linear capacitance, and slow, voltage-dependent charge movements in freshly dissociated fibers of the flexor digitorum brevis (FDB) muscle of rats of various postnatal ages. Peak Ifast was largest in FDB fibers of neonatal (1-5 d) rats, having a magnitude in 10 mM external Ca of 1.4 +/- 0.9 pA/pF (mean +/- SD; current normalized by linear fiber capacitance). Peak Ifast was smaller in FDB fibers of older animals, and by approximately 3 wk postnatal, it was so small as to be unmeasurable. By contrast, the magnitudes of Islow and charge movement increased substantially during postnatal development. Peak Islow was 3.6 +/- 2.5 pA/pF in FDB fibers of 1-5-d rats and increased to 16.4 +/- 6.5 pA/pF in 45-50-d-old rats; for these same two age groups, Qmax, the total mobile charge measurable as charge movement, was 6.0 +/- 1.7 and 23.8 +/- 4.0 nC/microF, respectively. As both Islow and charge movement are thought to arise in the transverse-tubular system, linear capacitance normalized by the area of fiber surface was determined as an indirect measure of the membrane area of the t-system relative to that of the fiber surface. This parameter increased from 1.5 +/- 0.2 microF/cm2 in 2-d fibers to 2.9 +/- 0.4 microF/cm2 in 44-d fibers. The increases in peak Islow, Qmax, and normalized linear capacitance all had similar time courses. Although the function of Islow is unknown, the substantial postnatal increase in its magnitude suggests that it plays an important role in the physiology of skeletal muscle.

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