The whole-cell patch-clamp technique was used to study voltage-dependent calcium currents in primary cultures of myotubes and in freshly dissociated skeletal muscle from normal and dysgenic mice. In addition to the transient, dihydropyridine (DHP)-insensitive calcium current previously described, a maintained DHP-sensitive calcium current was found in dysgenic skeletal muscle. This current, here termed ICa-dys, is largest in acutely dissociated fetal or neonatal dysgenic muscle and also in dysgenic myotubes grown on a substrate of killed fibroblasts. In dysgenic myotubes grown on untreated plastic culture dishes, ICa-dys is usually so small that it cannot be detected. In addition, ICa-dys is apparently absent from normal skeletal muscle. From a holding potential of -80 mV. ICa-dys becomes apparent for test pulses to approximately -20 mV and peaks at approximately +20 mV. The current activates rapidly (rise time approximately 5 ms at 20 degrees C) and with 10 mM Ca as charge carrier inactivates little or not at all during a 200-ms test pulse. Thus, ICa-dys activates much faster than the slowly activating calcium current of normal skeletal muscle and does not display Ca-dependent inactivation like the cardiac L-type calcium current. Substituting Ba for Ca as the charge carrier doubles the size of ICa-dys without altering its kinetics. ICa-dys is approximately 75% blocked by 100 nM (+)-PN 200-110 and is increased about threefold by 500 nM racemic Bay K 8644. The very high sensitivity of ICa-dys to these DHP compounds distinguishes it from neuronal L-type calcium current and from the calcium currents of normal skeletal muscle. ICa-dys may represent a calcium channel that is normally not expressed in skeletal muscle, or a mutated form of the skeletal muscle slow calcium channel.

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