The hypothesis that dihydropyridine (DHP)-sensitive calcium channels have three distinct modes of gating has been examined. The major prediction is that the relative frequencies among modes depend on DHP concentration while the kinetics within a mode do not. We tested this by studying whole-cell and single-channel calcium currents in neonatal rat and adult guinea pig cardiac myocytes in different concentrations of several DHPs. In the absence of DHPs calcium currents declined with time but the kinetics, which are the focus of this study, were unchanged. Open-time frequency distributions had insignificant numbers of prolonged openings and were well fit by single tau's. Agonist DHP stereoisomers produced concentration-dependent changes in whole-cell tail current tau's. The frequency distribution of single calcium channel current open times became biexponential and the tau's were concentration dependent. The average number of openings per trace of channels with customary open times increased with increases in DHP concentration. Latencies to first opening for the customary openings and for prolonged openings were shorter in the presence of DHPs. A second larger conductance is another important feature of DHP-bound single calcium channels. Thus DHPs not only caused prolonged openings; they produced numerous changes in the kinetics of customary openings and increased channel conductance. It follows that these effects of DHPs do not support the hypothesis of modal gating of calcium channels. The mode model is not the only model excluded by the results; models in which DHPs are allowed to act only or mainly on open states are excluded, as are models in which the effects are restricted to inactivated states. We suggest a different type of model in which cooperative binding of DHPs at two sites produces the essential changes in kinetics and conductance.

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